Niger: Population and poverty

British Medical Journal: Rapid Responses

24 August 2005

You note (BMJ 2005;331:422 20 August) the words of the World Food Programme’s public information officer, Stephanie Savariaud: The problems of Niger are structural: 82% of the population depend on agriculture to survive, and only 15% of the land is suitable for cultivation.

Rapid redoubling of its population is another cause of Niger’s problems. Niger’s population doubled twice between 1950 and 2000, and it is likely to double twice again between 2000 and 2050. (The figures from UN World Population Prospects, the 2004 revision, are 2.6 million in 1950; 11.7 million in 2000; and an estimated 50.1 million in 2050, the high variant for 2050 being 56.4 million and the low variant 44.9 million.)

Niger – with only 15% of its land suitable for cultivation – has found it difficult to feed a population of eleven million people; it will find it more difficult to feed a population of fifty million.

The article on Niger also notes, “Some aid agencies have put the blame for the extent of the crisis on the international community”. It seems fair to point out – in the gentlest possible way – that if these agencies, which include Oxfam, had spent as much energy on providing effective family planning as they have on saving lives, eliminating extreme poverty and preventing recurrent famines, in Niger and similar countries, would no longer be the difficult problem it is now.

Gerald Danaher
Retired NHS GP

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