Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's Really Going On in Niger?

There's malnutrition in Niger and then there are the arguments about malnutrition in Niger, which is turning into a "he-said, she-said" fight between Issa Lamine, the health minister of Niger, and Marie-Pierre Allié, President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)France.

Yesterday, Lamine accused MSF of exaggerating ongoing malnutrition problems in the Maradi region. Today Allié said in a press teleconference that the situation is worse than the government is willing to admit. "Despite all their efforts, the health care staff in the hospitals and health centers I visited cannot respond to the influx of malnourished children," Allié said, after returning from a visit to the Maradi region of Niger.

The government of Niger suspended MSF's operations back in July. Allié says another group, Action Contre la Faim, was given the boot in August.

The stakes are particularly high this time of year when food stocks are traditionally low before the harvest begins.

Allié took pains to say the MSF has worked with the Niger government before and she praised the government's past successes against malnutrition. But she was baffled by the latest setback and particularly worried to hear a government leader saying, "If MSF is not present, then there is no malnutrition in the area. MSF is creating malnutrition.”

Actually, Lamine's anti-aid agency stance sounds a lot like what I've gleaned from the Internet about a Norwegian documentary called "Sultbløffen" (or "The Hunger Bluff") that aired in March of 2008. The gist of the documentary is that aid agencies undermine local agricultural efforts and exaggerated the extent of the Niger famine in 2005 to justify their own existence. I hesitate to mention it since I haven't seen it, don't speak Norwegian and all the references to it I can find are suspiciously identical as well as identically vague as to who was behind the documentary.

If you've been to Niger recently, please share your thoughts on what's behind this unusual standoff.

Related post: Meanwhile in Niger


NIGER1.COM said...

Niger news
on http://www.niger1.com

Anonymous said...

There is an English version of Sultbløffen; it's called The Famine Scam.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4SYM8JsDg4&feature=relatedThe BBC has refused to answer to the criticism that it presents, and tries to block it from reaching an international audience:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jul/01/bbc.televisionIt just won the top norwegian journalism award.