News Release

* Kofi Annan in Niger * What About Mali?


U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is touring famine-stricken Niger today.

In a statement released today, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Doctors Without Borders stated: “Recently-begun food distributions in Niger are not reaching those with the greatest needs, especially children under five years of age in the worst-affected areas. … The U.N. was slow to react to the current epidemic of acute malnutrition in Niger, and its response continues to be inadequate. The organization blamed the nutritional crisis on drought and an invasion of locusts, and in November 2004 supported the Nigerien government’s decision to only respond to the emergency by only offering subsidized food aid. The most deprived Nigeriens, or those in greatest need, had no access to assistance.”

Kevin Phelan is a press officer with Doctors Without Borders. Phelan added: “Many factors contributed to the current disaster. … The effects from … natural events could have been addressed with a vigorous response when the first signs of a food crisis appeared in early 2005. The Nigerien government, though, was urged by international financial institutions, key donor countries, and U.N. agencies to act in ways that would not destabilize the local food market or drain resources from ongoing development projects. … Even as thousands perished by late June, some donors praised the Nigerien government for respecting the market and not distributing free food.”
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Dossani is the director of the 50 Years Is Enough Network. He said today: “A few months before the onset of one of the worst famines in recent memory, the International Monetary Fund praised the government of Niger for its ‘overall strong performance.’ According to the IMF, Niger’s economy had made great strides in implementing policy reforms, and needed to focus on pursuing the privatization agenda and other fiscal reforms. The government was pressured to reduce its grain stocks and implement a value added tax on basic goods including meat, dairy and produce, raising the price of food for citizens. In Niger’s capital Niamey, produce and grain imported from abroad are readily available at costs comparable with world markets, but these are out of reach for the majority of Niger’s population who live below the poverty line and rely on subsistence agriculture for their living. While the famine can be attributed partly to nature, had courses of development been open to Niger other than the model touted by the IMF, the current disaster might have been lessened if not avoided altogether.”
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Emilie Parry is Oxfam America’s deputy director of humanitarian response. She said today: “A food crisis is now gripping countries across West Africa. While the media spotlight has focused on Niger, where 3.6 million people are affected, neighboring Mali is also struggling. In Mali about 1.1 million are now at risk. Remote nomadic communities in Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, in the northern part of Mali, are among the worst affected. For these communities, and others like them in Niger, food aid will provide only temporary relief. For nomads who have lost all of their animals, the emergency response must go hand in hand with sustained assistance to help people rebuild their lives.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167