The military junta in Niger continues to assert its authority by arresting accused criminals and Tuareg rebels, and by firing heads of state companies. But there is a problem the new government will need help to address: the food crisis.
Poor harvests have left the people of Niger in desperate need of food. Half of Niger’s population are already vulnerable to food shortages and that number only increases as food shortages increase. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable and more likely to succumb to malnutrition. Relief officials scrambled to prepare an emergency action plan.
These severe food shortages are also causing children to stop going to school.
“Because of the food insecurity that prevails in our country, cases of mass abandonment have been registered in some schools,” said a government statement.
Abandonments came specifically in the central southern Zinder region. The government has called this a “very worrying” situation, adding that “the departures are the consequence of the exodus of families” facing this crisis. The food crisis has had the worst impact on the Zinder region this year.
According to Oxfam International, almost 10 million people can be affected by this crisis.
Today, UN aid agencies and organizations in Niger appealed for $132 million to support West African humanitarian programs. The total amount of aid needed is $190.7 million. $57.8 million has already been secured, leaving a shortage of $132.9 million.
Famine and hunger have been problems for Niger for months now, and have challenged the junta’s capacity to meet the needs of Niger’s people from the beginning of its rule. But now coordination between Niger and foreign donors is increasing. As the international community adjusts to the junta’s presence, and as the food crisis threatens to worsen not just in Niger but in parts of Chad and Mali as well, delivering relief seems to have superseded any major reservations about working with the junta in the eyes of the UN and others.
While [UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Niger] Lo N’Diaye and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon both acknowledge the importance and necessity of resolving the government’s political crisis, they agree that the food shortage crisis is a top priority.
“The main focus for the UN is to save lives in Niger… this support would go directly to the population and allow them to participate fully in the democratization process,” said Lo N’Diaye.
Today, the UN “will launch its Humanitarian Action Plan for Niger.” The Red Cross is tripling its aid to West Africa, and Morocco dispatched five planes bearing supplies to Niger earlier this week.
To be clear, I am not saying international organizations and other foreign donors should restrict relief efforts in Niger because it has military rulers. I think feeding hungry people is the right thing to do.
It is nevertheless important to point out that as the UN and others work with the junta, they will inevitably help legitimize it. That may not be a completely bad thing – ousted President Mamadou Tandja might have severely mishandled this crisis – but the cooperation extended by foreigners to military rulers will be noted by people and governments in the region. A widespread conviction that militaries can act effectively as political referees and intervene successfully in non-military crises will have effects, potentially including more coups.