The Sahel, which stretches over 3,500 km from Mauritania in the west to Chad in the east, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for children. According to the United Nations some 300,000 children under the age of five face the risk of death from malnutrition each year in the region. In light of this ongoing crisis, the Oakland Institute’s new report, Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? examines the 2005 food crisis in Niger to explain the cause of this chronic emergency and recommends strategies that can help make hunger in Sahel a thing of the past.
Niger was ranked the poorest country in the world, last out of 177 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index in 2005. Sixty-three percent of Niger’s population is estimated to live on less than a dollar a day. Social indicators are low: life expectancy is 44.7 years; the literacy rate is 17 percent; and Niger’s under five mortality rate is the second highest in the world. In 2005, Niger’s poverty and widespread hunger hit the world news. Some 230,000 children under the age of five were treated by NGOs-surpassing past records of relief intervention. And despite this effort, thousands of children died of hunger-related causes. While the 2005 crisis has been blamed on locust invasion and drought, Niger did not face an exceptional drop in production in the 2004-2005 agricultural year. Malnutrition remains pervasive even in years of bountiful harvest.
What is the cause of this chronic emergency, if not a natural disaster? How have several decades of development programs failed to eradicate hunger and malnutrition? What needs to be done to end this cycle of poverty and famine? Each Sahelian country has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which recognizes each person’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing, housing, and the continuous improvement of living conditions. What does this widespread hunger, year after year, mean in terms of the right to food in the region? What if any are the obligations of the international community during these food crises? These are the key questions that Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? intends to answer.
In a departure from economic liberalization promoted by the international financial institutions, Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? finds the region reeling from a free market famine. “The 2005 crisis in Niger highlighted the tragic limits and shortcomings of market-based food security policy,” said Frederic Mousseau, the Oakland Institute’s Senior Fellow and the co-author of the report. “While there was food in the markets and Niger continued food exports in 2005, domestic food prices sky rocketed almost 150-200 percent. While 63 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day, in July 2005 a Nigerien farmer paid more for more a kilogram of millet at the local market than a European or an American consumer paid for a kilogram of rice in the supermarket,” he continued. The report finds that these high food prices resulted in reduction in non-food expenditures such as health and education, sale of livestock and even land, jeopardizing the future of the population and driving more people into poverty and landlessness.
“The design of development policies has silently accepted the sacrifice of a whole segment of region’s population-primarily young children from the poorest families,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute and co-author of the report. “Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation is a reminder that there is more than enough food on the planet to feed every human being and to meet the standards set in international human rights law. It is time to apply these standards rigorously and relentlessly until all are free from hunger.”
On the basis of the analysis of the 2005 food crisis in Niger, the report suggests both short-term and long-term solutions to combat hunger in the region. These include:
1. Maintenance of national reserves
2. Timely intervention by donor countries
3. Support for family farms and consumption of local food
4. Prioritization of agro-forestry
5. Engagement of civil society in decision making
6. Consistent support for agriculture, infrastructure projects, education, health and social services
7. Special trade arrangements that protect national and regional food supply
8. A regional trade policy that is protective and supportive of West African farmers
9. A Marshall plan for Africa that is non-conditional, non paternalistic, including 100 percent debt relief and driven by the commitment to the human right to food and human dignity.
Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? is a publication of the Oakland Institute (www.oaklandinstitute.org), a think tank for research, analysis, and action whose mission is to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic, and environmental issues in both national and international forums.
To Download a Copy of the Report Visit www.oaklandinstitute.org The Oakland Institute