There is so much bad news from the Sahel that it is worth highlighting some of the good. This is not to deny that Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has terrible problems: just today, an Oxfam release says that the “worst flooding in more than 80 years [is] affecting half a million people in Niger.” But there are also some bright spots:
Speaking on state-owned radio, the agriculture ministry’s director of statistics Harouna Ibrahima said grain production was expected to rebound.
“All of the country’s eight regions have registered better results for millet, sorghum and maize than the previous harvest. We’re hoping for production comparable to 2010,” he said late on Wednesday.
Whereas Niger faced a grain deficit of around 500,000 tonnes this season, provoking a food crises that affected 6 million people, it produced a 1 million tonne surplus in 2010.
Niger has nearly halved the death rate of children below five years old since 1998, a significant drop highlighting the benefits of free universal health care for children and pregnant women as well as increased donor funding for health, The Lancet said in a study released on 20 September.
The mortality rate reduced from 226 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 128 deaths in 2009, an annual rate of decline of 5.1 percent, said the study, noting that the slump bettered the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to cut the child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. Niger’s achievement was also far better than its neighbours in West Africa.
From the mid-1990s, the government embarked on efforts to attain universal access to primary health care for women and children, with the focus on expanding measures to reduce deaths from malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles. It also built more health centres in remote regions and trained staff. Between 1998 and 2010, official development assistance increased by 77 percent to US$744.5 million, said the study, entitled Reduction in child mortality in Niger: A Countdown to 2015 country case study.
The flooding is a deadly serious issue, as are the recurring problems of drought and hunger. But given its food shortages, limited resources, vulnerability to natural disasters, and location in an unstable and violent neighborhood, I would say that Niger and its government have weathered the crises of 2012 remarkably well. Here’s hoping that Niger’s agricultural production will rebound as projected and that the country can continue to build on its achievements in mortality reduction.