Niger President Mamadou Tandja is downplaying the food crisis in his country, saying, “The people of Niger look well fed.” Mr. Tandja, making his comments on the BBC, also accused UN and other relief agencies, as well as opposition parties, of using reports of famine for political and economic gain. What’s more, he says, “It is only by deception that such agencies receiving funding."
For reaction, English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Greg Barrow, senior public affairs officer for the World Food Program. From London, Mr. Barrow responded to the accusations.
He says, “It’s slightly puzzling because the World Food Program, like other UN humanitarian agencies, has been working closely in partnership with the government of Niger and with local authorities and indeed other relief agencies to assess the scale of this problem, decide what the best way of dealing with it is and raising the funds to achieve that objective. It’s a joint effort; many discussions and consultations are held. I think it would be wrong to assume that agencies like the World Food Program identify a problem from overseas and then just unilaterally decide to go in and throw food at that problem. I think it’s fair to say that the World Food program has been based in Niger for a long period of time, has very sophisticated and monitoring analytical machinery in terms of human resources at its fingertips and makes very cautious and careful assessments about the scale of the problem there.”
Asked about the accusation that relief agencies use “deception,” Mr. Barrows says, “I would say very clearly that we do not use deception. We are very accountable to donor governments, who give us our money, like the US government, like many European nations, in terms of what we use that money for. We cannot ask for money and then be seen squandering it or wasting it one something that is perhaps an exaggeration of the facts on the ground. We have to be very cautious about this because today we may be asking about Niger, tomorrow we could be asking about Ethiopia. And if we make mistakes in Niger then the donors are not going to believe us when we talk about Ethiopia or somewhere else.”