A picture of Africa

Food crisis: Richard Hanson's photographs of famine from Niger, West Africa
Food crisis: Richard Hanson's photographs of famine from Niger, West Africa
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FOR Richard Hanson, there was no shortage of difficulties: his car suspension kept breaking, his hostel room was a windowless cell and he missed his wife and family.

But there are probably few things which can put one’s own problems into perspective like meeting a people on the edge of starvation.

It was such a situation the Sheffield photographer faced when he arrived in Niger this April. He had been commissioned by British charity Tearfund to capture this West African country currently on the brink of famine.

Now his heart-wrenching images will form the centrepiece of a nationwide media campaign to raise both awareness of the unfolding calamity and money to help the suffering millions.

It is hoped that by acting early scenes such as those witnessed in Ethiopia in 1984 can be avoided.

“It was profoundly moving,” says the 43-year-old of Roe Lane, Pitsmoor. “It’s my job to document these things and you hope that will help in some way but it is difficult not to let it effect you.

“One moment you’re complaining about a bumpy journey and the next you’re faced with this overwhelming natural catastrophe - and it does make you realise what’s important.

“The stories you heard were heart-breaking. There was one woman in a village called Kamrey whose husband had left for the capital to try and find work but he was struggling to send money back. She had eight children and she would spend the day in this searing heat collecting animal dung to sell as fertilizer. It was heartbreaking.”

Richard spent a week touring the southern villages of the desert country.

“There have been two bad harvests in a row,” he says. “And that means not only is food running out, the support mechanisms have stretched to breaking point. I met a 13-year-old girl called Lajoie who would spend every day in the scrubland searching for leaves to eat.”

It has not been his first such job.

The father-of-two has spent much of his life documenting life in dangerous and devastated places; from aftermath of the Rwanda genocide to the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo; from the ruins of the Haiti earthquake which killed 316,000 people in 2010 to conflicts in Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

But he admits few have affected him quite like Niger.

“This is different because the crisis is still unfolding,” he says. “It’s happening in slow motion. The food is slowly running out. There’s this disaster coming and people are powerless to stop it.”

For information on the Tearfund campaign visit www.tearfund.org

Facts about Niger

Niger has a population of just 16 million - but it is in an area of West Africa where Tearfund say 18 million people are currently in food crisis.

THE famine has been created by two appalling harvests. This year the expected yield was just 20 per cent of what is expected.

THE World Food Program says starvation is now inevitable.

In 2011, Niger was ranked 186th out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index.