In February 2010 the Republic of Niger was making headlines after the army staged a coup, which ousted President Mamadou Tandja and dissolved the government. Is Niger back in the news again following reports of food crisis in the country? One blogger, Global Nomad, does not think so. He writes, “Niger isn’t in the headlines. It’s barely ever been in the headlines.”
Global Nomad argues that Niger got a couple of weeks coverage in mid-2005and a blip a couple of months ago:
It got a couple of weeks of coverage in mid-2005, courtesy of a BBC camera crew who visited an MSF feeding centre in the east of the country and snapped some shots of a few skeletal children, thus propelling the story of a famine into the headlines. It also made a blip a couple of months ago when a low-level military coup deplaced Mahmoud Tanja as President of the country, all in the name of a more streamlined democratic process. Maybe 2 days’ worth.
Few people outside France know that Niger is not Nigeria. Global Nomad continues:
Most people outside France confuse the country with Nigeria, can’t prononce its name, and wouldn’t know the proper noun for its inhabitants (Nigerien, versus Nigerian). I remember doing media interviews with Australian press when I was in the field. Standing on some street corner with a Thuriya Satellite telephone against one ear, the conversations always started the same way: “We’re joined now by an aid worker in Niger. Tell us, where exactly is Niger?”
Blogging at Donation4Charity blog, Alister writes about Concern Worldwide response to Niger's food crisis . Niger's 2009 crop failure has put its citizens in terrible danger where about half of 15 million Nigeriens are desperately in need of food:
Concern Worldwide is currently responding to the food crisis in the West Africa country of Niger, who’s 2009 crop failure has put it’s inhabitants in terrible danger. Nearly half of the countries 15 million people are desperately in need of food due to the lack of rainfall that has blighted most of last year’s crops.
Niger is one of the least developed country on earth, and also one of the poorest. Concern Worldwide front line staff have been working in Niger for many years and have recently seen villages become totally deserted because of the lack of food. The situation is so bad that the local government is appealing for urgent international aid as the migration continues in the search for food.
Concern Worldwide response team are currently on the front line trying to treat the malnutrition and over the next few months will help up to 80,000 people. Not only will they be providing nutritional support to children, pregnant women, and distributing seed and fertiliser to replace failed crops, they are also using mobile phones to help transfer emergency cash grants to up to 2,500 families for essential items.
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Despite the crisis, Global Nomad says, “Of course, nobody outside NGO circles is talking about Niger at all.”
Why do countries such as Niger do not get adequate media coverage? “it just ain't sexy,” writes Global Nomad. Niger, he argues, fits into the category of ‘forgotten emergencies':
There are all sorts of reasons why countries like Niger don’t get press coverage, fitting neatly into the category we in the industry refer to as ‘forgotten emergencies’. That Niger is a geographically obscure former French colony doesn’t help. But beyond that, there’s the dynamic of the emergency itself. Complex.
The media labelled the 2005 crisis as a ‘famine’. The word ‘famine’ makes for a great headline. It has an emotional hit with it. We get images in our head like Ken Carter’s infamous pullitzer-prize winning image of a vulture stalking an emaciated toddler in Sudan. We think of Ethiopia in 1984 and Band Aid; of the Biafra famine and airlift of the late sixties; of the great famines of the Victorian period in India which cost millions and millions of lives.
What happened in Niger, of course, was not a famine. Which was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, no country wants a genuine famine. On the other, it meant that as soon as people started to delve into the root causes of what was happening in Niger, they lost interest. It was too complex to stay on the front pages. Not sexy enough…
By contrast, complex emergencies such as famines, wars, refugee crises and political emergencies are slow-moving, complex, and distinctly lacking in hope. They take far too long to explain to an audience used to the sort of oversaturated ADD-pandering stimulation provided by MTV, Jerry Bruckheimer and Fox News (complete with soundtrack). People lose interest. If they bother to learn even the slightest bit about the crisis, they feel their money will be wasted there. If it’s a war, then anything they give will just get blown up. If it’s a political crisis, then it’ll get eaten by a corrupt system. If a famine, then the children whose lives they save this year will just die in the next hunger season.
So, Niger is on the brink of a major crisis and there is no media interest:
Once again, there is no media interest. Once again the year ticks on, and NGOs and the UN have all put out their early-warning reports, and nobody seems to care. Once again, other emergencies overshadow the crisis in Niger- such as the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China.
Global Nomad warns us: And by the time we start seeing “photographs of emaciated children in feeding centres on BBC and CNN, then lives will have already been lost.”