Worse than 2005 in Niger

People warned us that things were as bad as they had ever been, that

    Two weeks today - it's Monday here in London - I returned from Niger. Al Jazeera had begun carrying a series of reports from the country which warned that the severe hunger in the country was at risk of tipping into a full blown famine.

    We visited the more fertile south and saw the problems there, and we visited the north - accompanied by an army patrol because of security issues - and saw the real hardships for villagers across the region.

    People were warning us that things were as bad as they had ever been, that this was much worse than the conditions that brought the terrible famine of 2005.

    The United Nation's World Food Programme now officially backs what the people told us.  They say half the country's population, 7.3 million people - are in desperate need of food.

    The country has suffered over the past two years with poor rains bringing harvests well below expectations.  Now the rainy season has arrived but that has brought torrential rain to many parts of the country, killing at least 6 people, washing away the homes of 67,000 and sweeping away crops.  The rains also destroyed the hopes of many that somehow this year will be better.

    The WFP has appealed for $213 million in emergency aid, but is 40 per cent short of its target.  One charity, Helen Keller International (HKI) has accused the international community of failing to respond effectively to continued appeals for help for Niger.

    The floods in Pakistan have dominated the world healdines, and with more than 14 million people affected, that is right and understandable.

    I've heard some people talk about "compassion fatigue" as if somehow the people and the governments elsewhere in the world have a limited amount of concern for their fellow man and can only feel sad and offer financial help for one global disaster at a time.

    In 2005, Niger lurched into famine quickly and thousands died. The world said it didn't know the sitaution was so bad, so severe.  This time, the warnings have been there for some time.  The threat to thousands is real and imminent.

    It simply cannot be ignored.


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