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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 16:32 GMT
Benn defends Niger's late donors
A Niger woman husks millet
Few people can afford to buy the food there is
The famine in Niger can be blamed on faulty early warning systems which failed to alert world leaders to the crisis, Hilary Benn has told the BBC.

The international development secretary was speaking to File On 4 as part of an investigation into why donors gave too little, too late to the world's poorest country.

Back in April, Niger was not included in a list of countries that the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation was concerned about, Mr Benn added.

"I think the truth is that this was a failure of the early warning system, so people had to rush to catch up."

Famine: Niger's Early Warning Systems
UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation monitoring programme
Government of Niger's early alert system
EU finances the Sahel region's weather monitoring exercise
US Government runs its own system called FEWSNET
The Sahel region of West Africa has four systems to monitor the first signs of a food shortage so that donor countries can then start sending aid.

The World Food Programme (WFP) made a flash appeal for funds in May but it was not until television reports of the crisis in July that the international community took action.

Niger's own government had to share some of the blame, Mr Benn added.

"There were contradictory signals about what happened.

"I myself was in Niger in February and saw the Prime Minister and the President. Neither of them raised an impending crisis with me."

Niger is a country that expressed its needs but was not sufficiently helped
Niger's Prime Minister Hama Amadou
Niger's famine can be traced back to poor harvests in October 2004. People were starving by February, according to Medecins Sans Frontiers.

The UK Government was among the first to respond, giving half a million pounds in June.

Its total donations to Niger this summer come to 3.25 million.

Public and political support for Africa burgeoned in July with London's Live 8 concert and the G8 meeting in Edinburgh.

But there has been criticism that by then children in Niger were already in the final months of a year of gradual starvation.

Niger's Prime Minister Hama Amadou told File On 4 the responsibility for the late responses rested entirely with the donors.

"I would like to say in a clear but firm manner that Niger was not helped as it should be by the international community.

"Niger is a country that expressed its needs but was not sufficiently helped."


File On 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 8 November, 2005 at 2000 GMT and repeated on Sunday 13 November, 2005 at 1700 GMT.


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