The Government of Niger has stopped a BBC team covering the food situation in the country. Although there has thankfully been no repeat of the locust swarm of last year, the country has still to recover from the effects. The area is just about to enter the annual “hungry season” as supplies from the last harvest run down and the new crops are yet to mature.
The reporter with the crew, Orla Guerin, was the first from a major news organisation to report the 2005 crisis. The ABC and CBS US TV networks used video from her reports in their own news programs, often without acknowledging their source, although it has to be said they also did this with footage provided by UN organisations like the WFP and Unicef and charities like Medecins San Frontiers.
Before the ban, Guerin was able to film in a southern province of Niger where the food shortages are starting to hit. Her
written piece on the ban includes details of what she found. (Warning: links to videos and pictures on this story are likely to show distressing images)
Officials said international and local media would not be allowed to do stories about the food situation as they did not want that subject touched.
Hunger and malnutrition are recurrent problems in Niger, which is the poorest country in the world.
Last week the United Nations included Niger in a major fundraising appeal.
With the country facing the lean months before the harvest comes in, we travelled to the region of Maradi, which was badly affected in the humanitarian crisis of last year.
Aid workers say that in the course of a singe week recently, 1,000 children were admitted to a feeding programme for the malnourished.
Milton Tectonidis of the relief organisation Doctors Without Borders said that unless donors dig deep, many in Niger could face a desperate few months.
“They are fragile. Everybody knows that. A bad year weakens their resources for two or three years following,” Dr Tectonidis said.
“So it’s going to be bad if the financing doesn’t come in. There’s no doubt about it. We’re going to be running around like crazy.”
Officials said they had no problem with our story, but the government did not want foreign or local media to report about food supplies or malnutrition.
The officials also criticised aid agencies without naming names, claiming that some of the funds raised for Niger last year did not reach their destination.
Hunger has always been a politically sensitive issue in the country.
Aid workers say there is a culture of denial at the highest levels and they worry that donors may forget the suffering in Niger if the government stops them from seeing it
This is not a politically caused crisis like that in Darfur. This political interference in the reporting of the plight of their people may well mean that the Niger government will damage the chances of the UN emergency appeal reaching its targets.