This Thanksgiving Day there is a little to be thankful for in Niger. More babies and children are crying from hunger and starvation. Fewer are at that terrible stage of slipping silently away, too emaciated to chew and too weak to weep. The BBC’s Hillary Anderson is back in the most affected region and is reporting again. In the background can be heard the crying of the children at the feeding stations, a heart-rending sign of improvement. Compared to the deathly silence in her earlier reports this is a glorious chorus.
The harvest is in but the drought and plague of locusts that devastated the 2004 harvest has left a terrible legacy. Hundreds of thousands had to sell their land or this year’s crop ahead of the harvest to survive. Those that survived are weakened. The nights are getting colder and children are dying from simple hypothermia or otherwise treatable diseases like chest infections and malaria. 3 million will be at risk within 5 months.
In many ways the situation is much more hopeful than last year providing that this time the rich world heeds the signs.. Like then the World Food Programme is giving advance warning of the crisis to develop in a few month’s time as the food runs out. Acting now will save a famine developing. The costs of the last aid effort is estimated to have been 14 times what it would have been if action had been taken around this time last year. Getting the food aid to warehouses in the next couple of months will mean the huge costs of transporting it through the mud and floods that follows the rains can be avoided. Local trucks are far more cost-effective than organising an airlift or a long trek through Libya from the north, on the dryer routes.
Hillary Anderson’s new reports are starting now on the BBC site. The written outline of the first is here and the video can be clicked through from that page or or here. Some images in it are very distressing. Get your representative to ensure the US agencies are involved now to avert yet another famine. Let’s make sure these huddled, starving masses survive to breathe free.