UN seeks Niger sanctions relief amid aid blockages

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations officials said on Tuesday that sanctions on Niger were blocking vital humanitarian aid such as food and medicine, saying that requests for exemptions had been submitted to regional bloc ECOWAS.

Trucks with food and humanitarian aid have been piling up at Niger’s land borders since a military coup on July 26, driving up food prices, in a sign of the impact of the sanctions. The blockade is designed to pressure the junta to restore ousted President Mohamed Bazoum to office.

“There is no way to bring humanitarian aid into the country,” Emmanuel Gignac, U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) representative for Niger told a press briefing during a visit to Geneva. “The immediate goods (affected) is going to be food and then it’s going to be access to medicine, to drugs.”

He added that a formal letter from U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths had been addressed to ECOWAS for exemptions.

ECOWAS spokesperson Emos Lungu declined to comment.

U.N. aid flights have also been grounded because they cannot get access to jet fuel because of the sanctions, complicating aid efforts in the giant country. Some agencies are using trucks, said World Food Programme regional spokesperson Djaounsede Madjiangar, but that takes extra time.

Requests for special ECOWAS clearance for aid supplies have so far not been granted, he added.

A U.N. children’s agency spokesperson said UNICEF has some 50 containers with immunization, cold chain equipment and therapeutic food stuck at different entry points, unable to get into the country, while more than a million doses of yellow fever and rotavirus vaccines cannot be flown in from Europe due to the airspace closure.

He added the agency was concerned about some 28 million vaccine doses stocked inside the country, with 95% of warehouses currently hit by power outages.

Gignac also voiced concerns about the security of Niger’s population, especially among its 700,000 forcibly displaced people, describing a sharp increase in protection incidents such as kidnapping and sexual violence since the coup.

(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Edward McAllister in Dakar; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Alex Richardson)