Oxfam: Rich countries' years of neglect have lead to West Africa food crisis

Published: 1 November 2005

Years of neglect by rich countries have contributed directly to the current food crisis in Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, said international agency Oxfam today.

Years of neglect by rich countries have contributed directly to the current food crisis in Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, said international agency Oxfam today.

Oxfam's analysis shows that the four West African countries - some of the poorest in the world - get only a fraction of the development aid that countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan receive from rich donor governments.

Niger, the world's second poorest country, gets $12 per person per year in aid. By contrast, each Iraqi receives on average $91 per year in aid - over seven times as much. Even countries with similar levels of poverty such as Senegal, Sierra Leone and Zambia receive at least three times as much aid as Niger.

"If Niger had received the same levels of aid as Iraq, a much richer country, this crisis may never have happened. Sadly, rich countries give aid on the basis of news headlines and political priorities instead of need - millions of people across West Africa are now paying the price of this bias," said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, Oxfam's Regional Director for West Africa.

"Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso have been forgotten by the rest of the world and this neglect has led directly to the current crisis. It is appalling that many rich governments only remember these countries when they see children there dying of hunger on their TV screens," said Quist.

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are all among the world's five poorest countries, according to the UN Human Development Index. In a normal year in Niger, 40 per cent of children are malnourished and one in four children die before their fifth birthday.

Niger along with other West African countries will benefit from the G8 decision to increase aid to Africa to a total annual figure of $50 billion by 2010. However, this will clearly come far too late to help with this crisis and is likely to remain short of what Niger needs.

"People across the Sahel live on a knife-edge. It takes only the smallest shock to send them spiraling into a food crisis. Rich countries can bring these countries back from the brink, but quick fix solutions are not enough. Donor governments must give more to Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso - and not only when the TV cameras are rolling," said Quist.

According to UN estimates, poor countries need $45 per person per year in aid in order to have any chance of winning the fight against poverty and reaching the Millennium Development Goals. All four countries currently affected by the West Africa food crisis receive less than this. Mali receives $19 per head, Mauritania $20 and Burkina Faso $13.

Contact Information

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please call Clare Rudebeck in the Oxfam press office on 44 (0) 1865 472530 or 44 (0) 7775 931 265.