Oxfam urges UN to create $1-billion fund to fight famine

The international aid agency Oxfam urged the United Nations on Wednesday to create a $1-billion emergency fund at a summit in September to prevent future famines such as one that is devastating Niger.

The famine, which is threatening 3,6-million people in the West African nation—including 800 000 children—was predicted more than six months ago, the British-based organisation said in a statement.

In 50 days’ time, UN countries are due to gather in New York for an annual meeting where the proposed fund is on the agenda.

“If the proposal is agreed, UN member states would pay into the permanent fund, so that when a country such as Niger needs assistance, money would be available immediately,” said Oxfam.

The agency warned, however, that a UN appeal for $30-million to help the area was launched in November 2004 but has only received a third of the cash. Similarly, a $16-million appeal by the UN food body—the World Food Programme—is just 40% funded.

“It is outrageous that the world waits until children are dying before acting to save them,” said Oxfam campaigns director Phil Bloomer.

“The UN launched their appeal for Niger in November 2004, but it wasn’t until international TV crews arrived last week that money really started coming in,” he said in the statement.

“The amounts asked for are paltry. A small proportion of the new money pledged at the G8 (Group of Eight most powerful nations) would cover it,” he said referring to a promise made at a G8 summit in Scotland earlier this month.

“Money for Niger will eventually arrive, but it will be too late for many.”

Oxfam claims the cost of averting the food crisis when it was first predicted would have been one dollar per person affected per day, but saving each starving person will now cost $80.

“Starvation does not have to be inevitable.
The food crisis in Niger was predicted months ago and could easily have been prevented if funding was immediately available,” said Bloomer.

“In 50 days’ time, world leaders must set up a UN emergency fund to stop food crises like Niger ever happening again.”

Although Niger is the worst-hit country in the region, Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso are also suffering from the current famine, which was caused by poor rainfall and a locust plague.

Further crises are said to be looming in other parts of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Eritrea. - Sapa-AFP

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