Tag Archives: elderly

Young and Old Starve in Niger Amidst Markets Filled With Food

Photo: Oxfam

International aid agencies have issued emergency appeals about the rising famine in the West African nations of Niger and Chad, which could eventually threaten millions. The Guardian reports today

Starving people in drought-stricken west Africa are being forced to eat leaves and collect grain from ant hills, say aid agencies, warning that 10 million people face starvation across the region.

With food prices soaring and malnourished livestock dying, villagers were turning to any sources of food to stay alive, said Charles Bambara, Oxfam officer for the west African region. “People are eating wild fruit and leaves, and building ant hills just to capture the tiny amount of grain that the ants collect inside…

In Niger, which the United Nations classifies as the world’s least developed country, starving families are eating flour mixed with wild leaves and boiled plants. More than 7 million people – almost half the population – currently face food insecurity in the country, making it the hardest hit by the crisis. According to UN agencies, 200,000 children need treatment for malnutrition in Niger alone. “Niger is at crisis point now and we need to act quickly before this crisis becomes a full-blown humanitarian disaster,” said Caroline Gluck, an Oxfam representative in the country.

The real tragedy–and travesty–lies in the fact that there is food available in Niger, but starving people cannot afford to buy it.

With food prices spiralling, people are being forced to slaughter malnourished livestock, traditionally the only form of income. “When you walk through the markets, you can see that there is food here. The problem is that the ability to buy it has disappeared. People here depend on livestock to support themselves, but animals are being killed on the edge of exhaustion, and that means they are being sold for far less money. And on top of that, the cost of food basics has risen,” explained Gluck. Compounding the crisis, thousands of animals have starved to death as villagers use animal fodder to feed themselves…

“This is just the beginning of the traditional hunger period, and people have already been forced to sell their livestock. This is very early for the alarm bells to be ringing, before Niger has even reached the start of the most critical part of the food calendar. You can imagine three to four months down the line how shocking the situation will be,” said Gluck…”West Africa has traditionally not been very high on the developed world’s priority list. The question now is how many people do we have to see die before the world will act?” she said.

In “Freemarkets and Famine in Niger,” the Guardian‘s Jeevan Vasagar writes that during the most recent famine in Niger, in 2005, “free market dogma stopped the government giving out free food to the starving.” He warns that this disaster could easily be repeated. Other analysts blamed the 2005 famine in large part on the economic policies of the IMF and EU, which contributed to a precipitous rise in the prices of staple grains.

This year, global economic factors, combined with a recent coup in Niger, are once again compounding a crisis caused by drought, and the toll in lives will be high. Just how high depends upon what the international community and Niger’s government do next.  One aid official told the Guardian that if relief does not come quickly, the crisis could reach the proportions of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, “during which an estimated 1 million people died due to drought and a slow response to the crisis both within the country and internationally.”

Photo: Rachel Palmer/Save the Children

The photographs already making their way out of Niger are heartbreaking and horrifying. Like the news reports, they tend to focus on children, who make up half of Niger’s population. Nearly 380,000 children are at risk of starvation in the next few months, according to Save the Children. 

In the 2005 Niger famine, the UN identified the elderly and the sick, along with children, as the “most vulnerable groups,” who would be “on the brink of being wiped out” without substantial aid. The Guardian reported that older people were often the last to be fed even when help arrived: “As aid agencies focus their scant resources on saving malnourished babies and children, the elderly are the forgotten victims of the crisis in Niger.” Older women, in particular, usually fell at the end of the line.

Oxfam is taking donations for its emergency response in West Africa here. Save the Children’s emergency appeal for Niger is here. To support emergency aid programs specifically targeting the needs of old people, donations can be made to HelpAge International.

Time for Hell’s Grannies to Ride Again

This is not a good time to be old in America. In addition to dealing with the usual burdens of aging–our aches and pains, and our worries about senility and death–we now have to contend with a backlash against the supposedly greedy geezers who insist upon clinging to life in definance of the public good.

On one side, we have pundits like David Brooks babbling on about old people stealing the nation’s wealth, and billionaire geezer-basher Pete Peterson bankrolling a campaign for an “entitlement commission” to cut Medicare and Social Security. Why should we expect a government handout just because we’ve worked and paid taxes all our lives? (Never mind that Wall Street has already decimated our retirement savings and home values.)

On the other side we have the champions of age-based health care rationing, led by “ethicists” like Daniel Callaghan, trying to convince us to go gently into that good night, while our corrupt system of medicine for profit goes on unrestrained. How would you like to be denied a kidney transplant or even a new hip, on the grounds of enlightened “cost-benefit analysis,” while the drug and insurance companies continue to rake in their profits?

It’s no wonder elders around the world are taking matters into their own hands. The only thing that’s surprising about the German geezer gang described in yesterday’s post is that it doesn’t happen more often. You hear about other incidents every now and then: an oldsters’ crime wave in Japan, or an octogenarian bank robber with an oxygen tank in San Diego. Maybe soon we’ll be seeing more elderly sapper gangs in action.

In the meantime, a reader dropped me a line last night with a reminder that there is indeed a precedent for all this, deftly portrayed by Monty Python. Seems to me that it might be time for Hell’s Grannies to ride again.

The Abandoned Old of Haiti

In just about every disaster, it’s the same story: The very young and the very old do more than their share of suffering. It happened in New Orleans after Katrina, during the heat waves in Paris and Chicago–in the so-called industrialized world as well as the developing world.

In Haiti, home to the poorest of the poor, life for the old is always hard. In traditional Haitian culture, the “gran moun,” or elders, are respected and cared for by their families and communities, but dire poverty makes this difficult–and there is no government safety net for Haiti’s elderly.

AP photo

We tend to hear more about the injured and dying children than we do about the elders. While it’s true that a young life cut short may be the most tragic event of all, the human capacity for suffering is the same at every age. That is clear in a devastating article by Alfred de Montesquiou, with accompanying photographs, put out today by the AP. It tells of a group of nursing home residents in Port-au-Prince who are now without water, food, shelter, or medical care, and are basically waiting to die.

The old lady crawls in the dirt, wailing for her pills. The elderly man lies motionless as rats pick at his overflowing diaper. There is no food, water or medicine for the 85 surviving residents of the Port-au-Prince Municipal Nursing Home, barely a mile (1 1/2 kilometers) from the airport where a massive international aid effort is taking shape. “Help us, help us,” 69-year-old Mari-Ange Levee begged Sunday, lying on the ground with a broken leg and ribs. A cluster of flies swarmed the open fracture in her skull.

One man has already died, and administrator Jean Emmanuel said more would follow soon unless water and food arrive immediately. “I appeal to anybody to bring us anything, or others won’t live until tonight,” he said, motioning toward five men and women who were having trouble breathing, a sign that the end was near….

With six residents killed in the quake, the institution now has 25 men and 60 women camped outside their former home. Some have a mattress in the dirt to lie on. Others don’t.

As it was during Katrina, fear of violence from desperate residents seems to be impeding the aid effort in Haiti. It turned out after Katrina that many reports of violence were false or exagerrated–but the panic they caused cost many lives. Only time will tell whether the same is true in Haiti. But time is something this group of elders does not have.

Though very little food aid had reached Haitians anywhere by Sunday, Emmanuel said the problem was made worse at the nursing home because it is located near Place de la Paix, an impoverished downtown neighborhood.

Thousands of homeless slum dwellers have pitched their makeshift tents on the nursing home’s ground, in effect shielding off the elderly patients from the outside world with a tense maize of angry people, themselves hungry and thirsty.

“I’m pleading for everyone to understand that there’s a truce right now, the streets are free, so you can come through to help us,” said Emmanuel, 27, one of the rare officials not to have fled the squalor and mayhem. He insisted that foreign aid workers wouldn’t be in danger if they tried to cross through the crowd to reach the elderly group….

Jacqueline Thermiti, 71,…was surprisingly feisty for someone who hadn’t eaten since Tuesday. She attributed that to experience with hunger during earlier hardships. “But I was younger, and now there’s no water either,” she said. She predicted that unlike other pensioners, she could still hold out for at least another day.

“Then if the foreigners don’t come [with aid],” she said, “it will be up to baby Jesus.”