U.N. Suspends Humanitarian Operations In Niger Following Coup

On July 28th, the United Nations suspended humanitarian operations in Niger following the coup that removed its elected president Mohamed Bazoum, the B.B.C. reports. In a statement on the 27th given by spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, the U.N. Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (O.C.H.A.) said that the office was suspending its operations and pulling out its staff due to the coup and the uncertainty caused by it, with immediate effect, according to independent multimedia news platform Ripples Nigeria.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Turk said he is “shocked and distressed by the attempted military takeover in Niger and condemn it in the strongest terms,” Ripples Nigeria reports. The U.N. pledged to “remain engaged and committed” amid the Niger coup, saying that, excluding the use of aircraft, it seeks to continue its aid in other ways.

In April 2021, Mohamed Bazoum was sworn in as President in the nation’s first democratic transfer of power since winning independence from France in 1960. However, two days after the coup on July 26th, 2023, General Abdourahmane Tchiani (also known as Omar Tchiani) declared himself the new leader of Niger.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the deposed President Bazoum, currently held captive by the military junta. Voice of America News reports that, like the U.N., the U.S. government is considering ceasing military and humanitarian co-operation with the Niger government while seeking peaceful resolutions.

French and U.S. forces have provided the country with a lot of help, countering threats to Niger’s security, and the U.N., E.U., and U.S. have consistently provided Niger with both military assistance and humanitarian aid. In 2023, the E.U. allocated €25 million in funding for humanitarian assistance and announced that it provided €49.7 million in aid last year. Meanwhile, in March, the United States announced that Niger would receive part of a $150 million humanitarian assistance package, according to Voice of America News. Since last year, the U.N. has been allocating funds for the region to reach $1.1 billion, while a current $534 million appeal is just over 30% funded, according to U.N. News.

Niger’s humanitarian situation seems dire. Around 2 million people in Niger suffering from food insecurity. Poverty and frequent droughts have long plagued the nation, the B.B.C. reports, and fallout from the Libyan civil war, conflict in northern Mali, and several jihadist insurgencies in the region has displaced around 376,000 people across the country, including 255,000 refugees fleeing from neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria, according to European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. Now, the U.N. says, there are more than four million people at risk.

“The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Niger has risen precipitously from 1.9 million in 2017 to 4.3 million in 2023, and the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity is expected to reach three million during the lean season [June to August], before the next harvest,” the body said.

Although it may put many of those lives at further risk, the U.N.’s decision to protect its staff amidst the national crisis seems reasonable. Currently, the best resolution is for the governments and organizations that had been providing aid to persist in their assistance via communicating with Niger’s military junta. However, these bodies must ensure that their action is purely apolitical. It is imperative that no one mistake international actors’ aid as support for the military government that overthrew the democratic rule.

The leaders of the developed countries who have thus far been providing aid to Niger should know how to distinguish humanitarian assistance from political co-operation. These actors should seek solutions to support Niger’s 4.3 million people in need while condemning the military junta’s coup.