Niall’s ‘Concern’ in the fight against extreme poverty

Concern's Mozambique Country Director Niall Tierney, from Limavady, with engineer Braz Eduardo Anselmo at a new dyke to stop floods in Bento village in Zambezia Province.
Concern's Mozambique Country Director Niall Tierney, from Limavady, with engineer Braz Eduardo Anselmo at a new dyke to stop floods in Bento village in Zambezia Province.

Limavady man Niall Tierney has worked with the internationally-known Irish charity Concern for 12 years and has a wealth of experience in international development and humanitarian aid. Niall joined Concern in Mozambique in 2000, later moving to Liberia to manage some of Concern’s programmes in the war-torn country.

He has served in Concern’s Overseas Unit in Dublin and has worked in emergency fields in Zimbabwe and Indonesia, where Concern responded to the 2004 Asian Tsunami. The ‘Journal’ last spoke with Niall in 2010 when he was in Niger, where he spent five years, addressing the long term reduction of chronic poverty and responding to emergencies such as food insecurity two years ago which threatened 60% of the population. ‘Journal’ reporter, SHEENA JACKSON caught up with Niall - currently in Mozambique - to hear why he will never lose hope in the fight for the elimination of extreme poverty.

Limavady man, Niall Tierney.

Limavady man, Niall Tierney.

It was as a young boy at Termoncanice PS in Limavady that Niall Tierney first became aware of “The Third World” after a teacher had a taken a voluntary two-year post in Zaire.

“When she returned she did a slide show of her work and it really made a lasting impression on me.  That and contact with groups like the SMA and the milestone event that was Live Aid, and the images of that famine through childhood, gave me the sense of wanting to work in that environment,” he said.

Working with Concern has exposed Niall to many extreme events. But, in the midst of what’s often chaos, he and the teams have worked with people in these desperate circumstances to help them through the danger, to secure their lives and the well-being of their families. 

“Being able to do that is the humbling privilege that working in development and emergency response sometimes presents.  This has included supporting communities repeatedly displaced by the brutal conflict in the last two years of Charles Taylor’s rule in Liberia, and helping communities take the first steps in rebuilding their lives in the immediate aftermath of the Indonesian tsunami of December 2004. We’ve also supported the development and roll out of a programme in Niger which aimed to reduce the scale of a nutritional crisis in children in 2010. it also measured and communicated the degree of reduction in malnutrition achieved so that we could tell donors and governments, as well as influence policy.”

Currently, the 38-year-old is the Country Director for Concern in Mozambique, the fourth poorest country on earth where 44% of the children are rated chronically malnourished.

“Mozambique is often in the headlines now for finds of natural gas and coal. We hope that the impact of those resources will eventually be positive, but such headlines stories of a resource-rich country belie the more complex reality of a deeply poor rural environment and a future still in question,” said Niall.

“The country is also rated as the sixth most vulnerable to climate change. The programmes we support are helping rural farmers, and woman farmers in particular, develop actions that improve their productivity and protect their fields, stores and assets from the increasingly frequent cyclones and floods. Here Concern’s work has contributed to improved enrolment and retention of girls in school and increased access to drinkable water through extensive development of wells, solar-powered village water systems and household level water filters.” 

Despite the appalling situations he has worked in, Niall said he will never “lose hope in the importance of the fight for the elimination of extreme poverty”.

“The work has changed overthe years I’ve been involved,” he said. “Working on issues of poverty reduction in Africa were perhaps looked at as mostly a local issue, local to the country in which the programming was run.  That has changed. We are all learning to live with globalisation in terms of what we consume, how jobs are affected in our country by changes in another and so on. The fight against extreme poverty is also a globalisation issue. How Concern has demonstrated leadership in that is one of the factors that keep our teams motivated. For example, Concern led research in the early 2000’s with Valid International on more effective ways to increase the number of children treated who suffer from severe malnutrition. That approach, Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition, is now the standard which United Nations agencies apply worldwide. Concern has directly supported several Governments develop their national protocols for the management of malnutrition.”

Niall explained each country he has worked in has its unique history, culture and geographical location. It also has its particular share of resources.

“This means that while there’s are certainly universal issues in poverty reduction, the working environment and concerns been different in every country I have worked in. 

“Mozambique’s history makes it unique and that means that the current environment is very different to other countries. Mozambique was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century and its oversight of the territory was limited due to a large extent to the limited resources Portugal had itself. For part of that period Portugal sub-contracted the administration of the territory to private companies, whose focus was not principally nation building.  The Mozambicans fought a ten year war of independence from Portugal and sadly then a sixteen year civil war, though it could be more accurately called a Cold War proxy war as one side of the conflict was sponsored by the Soviets and the other by western allies. These wars reduced the little infrastructure in the country literally to rubble and the country to the status of the poorest country on earth by the mid 1990’s. It remains the fourth poorest today. These legacies of colonial influence and of war continue to loom large in the country and must be navigated within our work so that we can ensure the greatest impact on poverty reduction and greatest influence from those results.”

Niall, whose parents and sister and her family still live in Limavady, says everyone - no matter where they are - can do their bit to help.

“People can make choices about what they eat, where it’s from and how it was traded. They can favourfoods which are locally produced with low energy inputs or those ethically or fairly traded which return fair prices to the producers,” he said. “People can also inform themselves of how their government’s policies work for or against the reduction of poverty and hunger and lobby them to maintain aid support, and to avoid policies which discriminate in favour of environmentally and economically inefficient food policies.”

Niall says his work is “hugely motivating and a privilege” and he’s keen to remain in this area of work. 

In terms of ‘moving home’, Niall’s wife is from Argentina “and so where home would be remains a question to be answered, but for the moment it is where we are along with our two wonderful children, aged seven and three.”

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