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Food Crises Unacceptable In The 21st Century

Major Food Crises Unacceptable In The 21st Century – Annan

With emaciated children in Niger hanging between life and death and only half of the requested funding on hand, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to the world not to get bogged down in “irrelevant debates” over the tardiness of its response but to act now to save hundreds lives daily in this drought-stricken country where nearly 3 million people are at risk.

“A food crisis of this scope is unacceptable in the 21st Century,” Mr. Annan said at the conclusion of a two-day trip to Niger on Wednesday. “I call on the international community to provide immediate help which will save hundreds of lives every day,” he told reporters during a press briefing in Niger’s capital city Niamey on Wednesday.

Mr. Annan conceded that the world’s initial response could have been faster, but there would be plenty of time to debate this issue after the needed assistance has been provided.

“Yes, the response has been slow, the appeal was made last year and World Food Programme did a study in January and made a report in April…appeals went out. And even now, as I speak, despite images on television, we have received 50 per cent of the appeal we made.”

UN agencies had asked for nearly $81 million to tackle the situation, but international donor response only gained momentum last month after images of malnourished children began appearing on television around the world. The UN has since indicated that it might need even more funds to address the growing crisis.

“We are pushing the international community – the donor countries – to give us even more help,” Mr. Annan said.

In an opinion article two weeks ago, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland wrote that the crisis in Niger could have been averted had political will and resources been available early on. “We could have saved children from malnourishment for as little as $1 per child per day. Now it will cost many times more. Aid agencies are racing against time to save lives. But they may be too late, especially for the young children,” he said.

The Secretary-General went on to point out that he has proposed the establishment of an emergency fund to enable the world body to act, rather than wait for receipt of donor funds, before humanitarian crises degenerate to the levels now seen in Niger. “Sometimes it’s too late, sometimes the money never arrives. But if we have an established fund we can begin to act while waiting for the donor countries to make their contributions. We are now working on this and I hope the donor countries will cooperate with us,” Mr. Annan said.

While in Niger, Mr. Annan also stressed the need for a long-term strategy, taking into account neighbouring countries in the sub-Saharan Sahel region which, like Niger, are also suffering from the consequences of drought and the worst locust invasion in 15 years.

“The situation is all the more difficult in that the food crisis affects not only Niger but other countries of the Sahel. We need a long-term regional strategy which targets the structural causes of the situation,” Mr. Annan said. He envisions a longer-term strategy in which the UN, working together with the government, took steps to restock the agricultural reserves which have been long exhausted.

The Secretary-General’s visit to Niger was part of efforts to keep the international spotlight on one of the world's poorest countries, where locust, drought and chronic poverty have led to the food crisis.

Following meetings with Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja, Mr. Annan visited the National Hospital of Zinder and a feeding centre run by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) and he held meetings with the UN country team.

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