Statement on Famine Relief in Niger
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Conference of Catholic Bishop
August 3, 2005
Hunger and famine are harsh realities that rob people of their health and lives. More than 3.6 million people in Niger face the prospects of hunger and famine-like conditions due to vegetation-devouring locusts and devastating drought.
We note with satisfaction that emergency relief is reaching some of the starving in Niger, but tragically, given the scale of this crisis, the assistance is too late for some. In addition to on-going development programs, which have allowed some to weather the horrible combination of locusts and drought, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been responding to the food emergency in Niger over the last ten months. Through a combination of seed fairs to increase local production and food distributions we are saving lives. CRS is presently increasing food distributions, targeting the hardest hit areas, and providing cash and specialized commodities to partners helping severely malnourished children to recuperate.
While Niger is the most acute instance of widespread food insecurity, it is not the only African nation threatened with serious food shortages. Mali, Burkina Faso and other states of the Sahel region of Africa are at risk. We urge the international community to take prompt notice of these other impending emergencies so that food relief will not have to await actual starvation. Strengthening food security will also contribute to regional stability and peace in Niger and the other countries of the Sahel.
The teaching of our Church is unambiguous. In feeding the hungry, we serve our Lord (Matthew 25:31-40). Catholic social teaching reminds us that access to food is a basic human right that flows from the right to life (Pacem et Terris, 11).
We have profound obligations as individuals and as a nation to those of our African brothers and sisters who are suffering the travails of drought, failure of crops, internal and external displacement, and famine. To provide desperately needed assistance is charity. To work together to prevent such tragedies in the future is justice. Solidarity demands that we respond in both charity and justice to the urgent needs of Africans facing the specters of hunger and starvation.