Population Matters

Saving Niger

July 15th, 2010

Because women in Niger on average have seven children, Niger’s population is on track to jump from an estimated 15.3 million  in 2009 to 58 million by 2050. No one knows how Niger will feed itself in forty years.  That’s because no knows how Niger will feed itself today. 

Earlier this month, Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), warned that, as a consequence of widespread hunger, Niger was in danger of “losing a generation.”  She warned that the brains and bodies of children under the age of five will be severely damaged unless added nutrition is provided soon. 

The current hunger crisis in Niger and other parts of the Sahel region in Africa is being caused by drought and high food prices. WFP plans to reach 4.5 million people in the region in the next few months, but Sheeran warned that the situation is deteriorating rapidly and that WFP needs about $100 million to bridge the funding gap. 

Tragically, the long range forecast for Niger, the Sahel, and many other areas of the developing world is continued drought and ever higher food prices. Climate change is expected to worsen drought conditions in much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and the rate of population growth is likely to outstrip food production in the decades ahead, leading to periodic or chronic food shortages and higher food prices. 

So where does all this lead?  Earlier this month, Reuters put together a panel of experts to discuss, in their words, the “F-word,” meaning famine.  The forum generated a lot of poignant on-line chatter, but virtually nothing in the mainstream media.  Last month, a major think-tank in India warned in a special report that rice and wheat yields in India and China will likely fall between 30-50% by 2050 because of climate change and other factors, but the report got little media attention.

With the world still wrestling with a global recession and a major environmental disaster still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, very few people are paying any attention to the tragedy that is now unfolding in Niger.  Fewer still are focusing on what may lie ahead if global food production is unable to keep up with the world’s ever growing appetite for food. 

We may yet win the WFP’s battle to save the children of Niger.  But the war against hunger is far from over.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

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