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Group to help famine victims in Niger

By Cassie Blombaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
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Fed up with the slow response to crisis-stricken areas by some charitable organizations, Mamadou Baro, a UA anthropologist, decided to create a new project to aid starvation in Africa.

Niger Direct, a UA program that provides emergency aid directly to hunger-stricken families in Niger, was established last month, Baro said.

Famine has threatened the lives of 3.6 million Nigeriens since 2004, according to World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization.

Baro, who returned to Niger last week, said after initially visiting the country, he realized the best way to aid the suffering was to establish an organization that got aid out quickly and efficiently.

"We decided we are going to try to make a difference one villager at a time," Baro said.

All of Niger Direct's workers are volunteers, so funds go directly to the people who are in need, Baro said.

"We decided to give them money so they can buy the food themselves," Baro said.

Thomas Park, an associate professor of anthropology who works with the group, said Niger Direct was organized to make sure aid truly does get to the people on time.

"We felt that typically international aid arrives very late and often does not get to the most needy people, and we thought that it was time to try to improve on this," Park said.

In addition to aid, Niger Direct will also be an effective way to analyze how devastating the crisis is and create better ways to solve it, Park said.

"The actual problems people have in crisis situations are poorly understood," Park said. "By paying people in crisis to help us study this situation, we can help them as well as develop a better method of delivering aid."

Aid is essential because the typical conditions for a family in Niger are harsh, Park said, and the families are ravaged by hunger.

"Many families are weakened from hunger and malnutrition and are confronting their most labor intensive period of the year, the planting season," Park said.

The areas that are hardest hit by famine have people who eat one meal per day at most, said Allison Davis, a Niger Direct volunteer and anthropology graduate student.

"Having lost all of their crops last winter, they have managed this year by selling off their assets to purchase food," Davis said. "They must wait two more months before this year's crops come in, but it will be the hardest two months, here at the end of the farming cycle."

This past year in particular has been extremely bad for the cultivators of Niger, said Micah Boyer, a Niger Direct volunteer and anthropology graduate student.

"This time of year, up until October-November, is always the worst - in French it's called the soudure," Boyer said.

The soudure is the season when food from earlier harvests is depleted and food being grown isn't yet ready to harvest, Boyer said.

After visiting Niger a number of times, Baro said he thinks about $150 can help families survive the soudure.

"If you have people depending on agriculture, and there is a drought, you know that they will be in very bad shape," Baro said.

But there are ways to help. Students, faculty and staff can contribute to Niger Direct in a number of ways and it doesn't take much, Boyer said.

"We estimate from the assessment that an entire household can eat with just $5 a day," Boyer said.

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