Misanet.com / IPS, 19 January - Niger is seeking 344 billion CFA francs to fight poverty for the next four years. This year alone, half the population could starve because of a poor harvest. According to a programme against poverty which is still on the drawing board, the government itself plans to contribute 16.25 billion CFA francs to the programme as part of a national compensation package. (One US dollar is the equivalent of 700 CFA francs.)
Other contributors include various communities, benefit-holders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), savings banks and credit unions, which may contribute up to 2.5 billion CFA francs.
Requests will also be made for bilateral and multilateral foreign aid, which will by necessity fund the lion's share of the programme, according to the special provisions and conditions set by the lenders. A sum of 219.7 billion CFA francs has already been gathered to fund the programme.
A month ago Niger's international creditors agreed to cancel 676-billion-CFA-francs' worth of debt, which today is worth only 400 billion francs. The cancellation was made possible by a 14 Decenmber agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to Niger's Minister of Finance, Ali Badjo Gamatie.
Niger's foreign debt is more than 1,100 billion CFA francs. Its 2001-2003 economic and financial programme was approved in December by the IMF, which provided 59.2 million dollars in special drawing rights (SDR), or 55 billion CFA francs over the course of three years for the reduction of poverty and to increase economic growth.
The first phase of the three-pronged programme consists of improving poor people's economic opportunities, especially access to jobs and higher income for the rural poor.
It also seeks to support the creation of new jobs for unskilled workers and for new school-leavers, and to support the informal sector and the sustainable management of interest-bearing capital.
The second phase concerns the development of various sectors based on occupations. The professionalisation of NGOs and strengthening the government's abilities to pinpoint the roots of poverty are also discussed in this part of the programme.
Out of the world's 174 countries, Niger ranks 173 in human development, just before Sierra Leone, according to the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) last report. The life expectancy in Niger is 47 years, while the rate of school attendance is only 32 percent.
According to statistics from the National Anti-Poverty Programme, 63 percent of Nigeriens, or 5.3 million people, live under the poverty line. The cut off points are an annual income of 75,000 CFA francs per year in the cities, and 50,000 in the rural areas. Of poor Nigeriens, 34 percent live below the extreme poverty line, with an annual income of less than 50,000 CFA francs per year in urban areas and less than 34,000 in rural ones.
Last August, after publication of the UNDP 2000 report, Nigeriens expressed shame and consternation at being ranked next to last in the world. "Our leaders prefer to invest public funds in real estate, instead of using it to lighten the burden of our rural people," lamented Hamsatou Ibrahim, a member of a women's group. Even though the plight of Niger might be a "national shame", she thinks the country has the resources to improve the living conditions of its people.
Barke Hamadou of the NGO 'Breeders Without Borders' explains that the reason for Niger being in the 173rd place is what he terms "the waste of public resources by capricious spending".
- When the sub-prefect decides to buy an all-terrain vehicle from public monies when the clinic doesn't have medicine, I think you will agree that public funds are not being well spent, he observed. Other Nigeriens, however, believe that Niger's lowly ranking in the UNDP report is due to a hostile international environment.
By Souleymane Anza, IPS