The United Nations warned Wednesday that the crisis in Niger could significantly worsen food insecurity in the impoverished country, urging humanitarian exemptions to sanctions and border closures to avert catastrophe.
The U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA highlighted that even before Niger's democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum was toppled in a coup late last month, the country counted more than 3 million acutely food-insecure people.
More than 7 million others, who are considered to be moderately food-insecure, "could see their situation worsen due to the unfolding crisis," OCHA warned, citing a preliminary analysis from the World Food Program.
Bazoum, 63, was detained on July 26 by members of the presidential guard, in the fifth coup to hit Niger since independence from France in 1960.
The U.N. food agency said it was continuing to deliver aid in Niger, despite the political crisis wracking the poor, landlocked country in the heart of the arid Sahel.
"Our work is vital for the most vulnerable in Niger and needs to continue, particularly in the current circumstances," Margot van der Velden, WFP's acting regional director for western Africa, said in a statement.
In the first week of August, the agency said it had delivered lifesaving food to 140,000 people across the country, and vital malnutrition care to 74,000 children.
WFP said it expected to reach more than 1 million people with emergency food assistance this month alone.
But it cautioned that sanctions and border closures linked to the political crisis were "greatly affecting the supply of vital foods and medical supplies into Niger."
"We urge all parties to facilitate humanitarian exemptions, enabling immediate access to people in need of critical food and basic necessities," van der Velden said.
She also called for more financial support, warning the worsening humanitarian situation in Niger was coming at a time when WFP was being forced to cut rations globally because of a lack of funds.
A multi-agency appeal issued in March for $584 million to respond to the towering needs in Niger until the end of 2025 is only 39% funded, OCHA said.
And the food security and malnutrition portion, representing more than a third of that appeal, has received 27% of the requested funds, it said.