IN OTHER WORDS : Starvation

Were it not for Hilary Andersson, a BBC journalist, Niger’s starving people would very likely be getting little attention. Her report from Niger, where more than three million people are now in danger of starving to death, set off a worldwide aid effort that a year of UN warnings could not. Had attention been paid sooner, lives could have been saved at one-eightieth of the cost today. Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, has long lived at the mercy of an unforgiving climate, and the destruction of last year’s crops through drought and crop-eating locusts is the main cause of its present plight. The usual contributors to famine elsewhere, like war, dictatorship or crackpot economic theories, are notably absent. Niger’s government is democratically elected, and President Mamadou Tandja’s orthodox budget-balancing and market-opening policies are regularly pra-ised by international lend-ers. But in April he imposed food tax increases as part of budget-balancing package. Economist Amartya Sen has taught, rightly, that “no famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy.” Leaders who are truly accountable have strong incentives to take timely preventive action. Tandja clearly needs a refresher course in humane econ-omics and accountable de-mocracy. — International Herald Tribune