Monday, September 05, 2005


Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has declared that Niger is in a state of crisis, as has the UN, following intense criticism from this group. In an effort to maintain the appearance of doing something, Kofi Annan, (whose son Kojo & brother Kobina are being investigated in connection to the oil-for-food scandal) has toured Niger & promised more aid.

But, is aid the answer? The flood of foreign aid creates economic problems by driving down the price of locally produced grain & produce, forcing farmers who might otherwise be self sufficient into poverty. It also leads to the governments of the recipient countries to become less reform oriented as they lose the incentive to do so.

Ironically, it may even cause hunger, as has happened in some villages where the men have locked up the surplus grain & forbidden its consumption by their wives & children in order to receive aid. These men have an excellent understanding of the workings of aid agencies & are happy to exploit them. The women & children of Niger are paying the price. Would it not be better to address the cultural factors that cause starvation?

In Niger, 47.3% of the population is under 14, & nearly 60% of the young people are under 18. Girls typically get married at fifteen or less & are pressured to have many children. Polygamy, which is allowed by fundamentalist Islam, as well as the exhortations in the Koran to propagate the faith through procreation, are cited as the major contributory causes for the high rate of population growth.

The traditional dietary & childrearing practices have an impact as well. Their diet is mostly limited to millet. Not only do they not eat fresh vegetables & fruits & fish, they also lack the knowledge of how to prepare such dishes. Mothers are asked to dispose of the colostrum during the first few days following the birth of a child. This is the most nutritious part of the breast milk, as it is saturated with proteins and other substances that boost the immune system. Infants are weaned very quickly, despite evidence of its adverse affects on children. Young children are also refused eggs due to a cultural belief that it will prevent their becoming thieves. They also tend to be the last to be fed during the daily meals, long after the father and mother.

It is a shame how political correctness & multiculturalism forbid us from implementing truly effective policies aimed at addressing the true roots of hunger in Niger as well as other areas.

Another oft overlooked aspect is the role of the aid agencies in perpetuating the image of crisis. I found the observations of Dr. William Easterly very astute:
"I think NGOs and rich country media do have an incentive to paint too simplistic and bleak a picture, as was the case in Niger's food crisis,"
The comments of Tony Vaux, a former coordinator of Oxfam's global emergency programmes, should also be considered:
Once an emergency is identified, he says, the NGOs' public relations machine takes over and "there is a terrible temptation to look around for the very worst stories"
Mr. Vaux notes that the money spent on the publicity for famines & other diasters would be better spent on actual action.

Indeed, as I argued in an earlier article, organizations, including those, which operate under the aegis of humanitarianism including MSF, AI, Oxfam as well as the UN agencies are not above having ulterior motives & self-serving agendas. They are not immune to the affects of the monies, which follow a splash of publicity not only to the organization it-self, but also the individual members. It is might be wise to take the yowlings of movie stars, rock bands, aid agencies & the MSM with a grain, or perhaps a heap, of salt.

HAT TIP: La Shawn