30 March 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator on Situation in Niger

Approximately 7.8 million inhabitants of Niger, accounting for half of the country’s population, were in a very vulnerable situation, Khardiata Lo N’Diaye, newly appointed Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Niger, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Briefing on the situation in Niger, Ms. Lo N’Diaye said the country was currently facing a severe food crisis resulting from a bad rainy season in 2009, which had caused food and cereal shortages.  The crisis was a “long-standing vulnerability situation” for Niger, further augmented by a bad 2009 crop yield, she noted.

Ms. Lo N’Diaye said that in light of the food crisis, there were two priority challenges for Niger -- food insecurity and malnutrition, which especially threatened children and pregnant women.  The authorities had launched an appeal for international assistance in hopes of raising an estimated $150 million needed to tackle the two priority issues.  In response, the humanitarian community, including the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and other donors, had prepared an Emergency Action Plan aligned with the priority issues.

The Emergency Action Plan had been prepared in an inclusive manner, allowing all involved to work together towards the final goal, she stressed, adding that she was in New York to finalize the Plan with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  It was to be hoped that, with the support of OCHA and donors, all those involved would be able strongly to support and help those needing help in Niger.

Asked about the 18 February seizure of power and its effect on the recent humanitarian situation, Ms. Lo N’Diaye said that, while the return to democratic institutions was indeed a key priority, tackling the urgent food needs of the population was equally crucial.  The de facto authorities were committed to making the humanitarian issue their top priority, and any support would go directly to the people, enabling them to participate fully in the democratization process.

When asked whether the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) had responded to the food crisis with a contribution, Modibo Traoré, Head of the OCHA mission in Niger, said a CERF contribution of $6 million had been made in February, before the drafting of the Emergency Action Plan.  However, now that the Plan had been drafted, there was an expectation of a contribution through the CERF rapid response window.

Responding to a statement that Niger received large amounts of income as the world’s sixth biggest uranium producer, and through its large oil contract with China, which included a $272 million signing bonus for the son of the former President, Ms. Lo N’Diaye said the country had not been “a spoiled country”.  Ranking last on the Human Development Index, it was one of the countries receiving the smallest amount of aid development.  It received $4 per capita, an amount that was typically twice or three times as high in other West African countries.  In spite of that, Niger had the potential to reverse its development trend through good governance in the exploitation of its mineral resources, she said.

The main focus for the United Nations was to save lives in Niger and help people escape looming food insecurity and malnutrition, which compromised the chance for future development, she said.  Taking into consideration the long-term effects of malnutrition on the intellectual potential of children, there could be no doubt that it was “more than the right time to take serious humanitarian actions”, she stressed.

Ms. Lo N’Diaye agreed, however, that humanitarian action was not an end in itself.  Parallel to that, there was a strong need to think about Niger’s long-term development trends.  Current development strategies must be adapted to the specific needs of the country, which was facing climate change and security challenges.  As the case of Niger also had a subregional dimension, the issue of security must be understood within that context, she added.

Asked whether China had contributed to the recent humanitarian crisis, given its recent oil deal with Niger, Ms. Lo N’Diaye said the Emergency Action Plan was open to contributions from any side, and all Member States or other organizations had an opportunity to contribute.

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For information media • not an official record