Plenty of food - yet the poor are starving
A Guardian report on the two faces of Niger:
There is plenty of food, but children are dying because their parents cannot afford to buy it. The starvation in Niger is not the inevitable consequence of poverty, or simply the fault of locusts or drought. It is also the result of a belief that the free market can solve the problems of one of the world's poorest countries.
Niger, the second-poorest country in the world, relies heavily on donors such as the EU and France, which favour free-market solutions to African poverty. So the Niger government declined to hand out free food to the starving. Instead, it offered millet at subsidised prices. But the poorest could still not afford to buy.
The UN, whose World Food Programme distributes emergency supplies in other hunger-stricken parts of Africa, also declined to distribute free food. The reason given was that interfering with the free market could disrupt Niger's development out of poverty.
Update (August 4): Guardian reports on looming crisis in Mali and Burkina Faso as well.
Niger's government ruled out both free food aid and health care to hungry families, preferring to sell surplus millet at subsidized prices in an effort to force the price of scarce millet down. But millet prices skyrocketed, forcing families to sell cattle and other goods to buy food. The charity has angrily accused governments of allowing children to die, albeit not intentionally, so that the free market in grain would not be disrupted. Others say that Niger is on a steady course toward future disasters, free aid or not.