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OXFAM Says Early Warnings Of Niger Famine Unheeded

Despite warnings from aid agencies late last year that Niger was on the verge of a famine, many in the country are now clinging to life by eating leaves. The warnings followed drought and locust invasions, which led to the deaths of crops and livestock. Now people are dying.

Natasha Quist is Oxfam’s regional director for West Africa. She has just returned to Dakar, Senegal after touring Niger. Ms. Quist spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about conditions in Niger.

She says, “The first thing that’s deceptive is that the rains have come intermittently over the last month. Rain has fallen. It’s green, relatively speaking, quite green.” Ms. Quist says she found that “shocking” because she knows Niger is a desert country. “But,” she says, “it’s deceptive because even though the grass is green and the animals can feed, it’s making very little difference for the crisis and how people can eat. It’s green, but it’s not things people can eat.”

The OXFAM official says despite that, “food is available.” In the large towns, food is being sold at very high prices, too high for farmers and herders. She also saw children in the Doctors without Borders clinics who were being treated for severe malnutrition. She describes that as “shocking, very difficult to deal with.”

OXFAM and other ngos had warned of the impending crisis last October, following the drought and locust invasions. She blames a failure in communication for not convincing enough people of the seriousness of the situation in Niger.