Nicole Kouassi, UN Acting Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, was speaking from the capital, Niamey, just hours after the general whose troops seized the democratically elected president, announced that he was assuming control of the country.
On behalf of UN agencies on the ground, she echoed the Secretary-General’s condemnation of Wednesday’s coup attempt declared against President Mohamed Bazoum, who reportedly remains in detention at his home.
A ‘difficult situation’
Ms. Kouassi expressed concern over the current “difficult situation” in Niger, where 4.3 million people, mainly women and children, were already dependent on aid prior to the power grab.
Some 3.3 million are facing food insecurity, while a $534 million appeal is just over 30 per cent funded, she said, calling for greater support.
The UN and international aid groups have not stopped delivering amid the crisis. However, UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights have been temporarily suspended because the air space is closed, along with the territorial borders.
“All the humanitarian partners and development partners remain engaged and committed to supporting the vulnerable population of Niger who are affected by a combination of climate issues, economic and security shocks in the context of very high humanitarian and development needs,” she said.
Response never stopped
Jean-Noel Gentile, Country Director for the World Food Programme (WFP) affirmed that “humanitarian response continues on the ground and has never stopped”.
WFP is providing both cash assistance and food assistance in Niger and will continuously assess the situation to ensure its staff and partners can safely access people in need.
“Only if security is an issue, we will temporarily possibly suspend certain operations in certain areas. But this is not currently the case,” he said.
Border closure impacts
The crisis could potentially affect the humanitarian response in the wider region, which continues to face impacts from conflict, drought, insecurity and other challenges.
Mr. Gentile said WFP recently established a logistics hub in Niamey as a transit point for hard-to-reach areas in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali, which are only accessible through Niger.
The agency has also been facilitating delivery of humanitarian aid to Chad, which is now hosting hundreds of thousands fleeing the conflict in Sudan, “so the closure of the borders will temporarily suspend this vital cross-border logistics support,” he said. As a result, WFP is examining the possibility of alternative routes.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has not witnessed “any particular movements” related to the attempted coup, said Emmanuel Gignac, Deputy Representative in Niger.
UNHCR monitors regular movements of internally displaced people in Niger, or refugee flows into the country from Burkina Faso, Mali and northwest Nigeria.
No warning signs
Ms. Kouassi was asked if UN agencies were in contact with the military, but she said no, stressing that they do not have political mandates.
Journalists asked if there were any warning signs ahead of the attempted coup, or if the UN officials had seen personnel from the Russian private military company Wagner Group in Niger. Ms. Kouassi answered no to both questions.
“No early signs were noticed,” she said. “We woke up in the morning and we were faced with the situation. And as of now, no sign of Wagner from the UN perspective.”