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Local Woman Making Noise for ‘Silent Disaster’

November 5, 2007

Boston, MA – Linda Mason of Belmont says the troubled nation of Niger isn't racked by violence on a daily basis, and that, ironically, could be part of the country's problem. Mason is vice chair for Mercy Corps, which considers the country a "silent disaster." Devastated by constant drought cycles, 20 percent of Niger's population is at risk for chronic malnutrition. Mason, who recently returned from the central African country, says two-thirds of Nigerians are below the absolute poverty level, but the lack of attention-grabbing violence means their plight is not "front and center" in the minds of American donors.

"When you see what makes it into the headlines, it's intense conflict, war, violence or brutality. Because Niger doesn't suffer in those ways, it fails to grab the public's attention."

Mason says when Mercy Corps first went into the country in 2005, the goal was to save lives. She says with enough funding, they hope to jump-start the nation's economy with a micro-credit program which will provide people with tools such as grain grinders and sewing machines.

"We find that micro-credit programs, wherever we operate, tap into the energy that's waiting to be tapped into, and we see results very, very quickly."

Mason says the country has no strategic value to Western nations because it lacks any significant natural resources. Niger is in last place on the United Nation's "Human Development Index," which ranks the well-being of people in almost every country in the world.

Kevin Clay/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MA