Humanitarian: Wars, epidemics, famine.

Withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan on 15 February 1989.

Afghanistan at the crossroads.

Joe Biden has just announced the final withdrawal of the last American troops on 11 September 2021, 20 years after their intervention, but with what results? In any case, it is not a victory when you negotiate your departure with the enemy. In 20 years, according to some experts, with 2000 billion dollars spent, despite the corruption and the war, Afghanistan is not in 2021 what it was in 2001.

Many infrastructures such as roads have been built, education has developed, the status of women has evolved, the media has flourished and, if elections have been held, they are compromised by massive irregularities and contestation of the results.

Yet the war is still there, right to the heart of Kabul, and 1.1 million Afghans are displaced by the fighting. I, who love this country, who hope for a political solution of reconciliation, a kind of “peace of the brave”, fear that the gap between the enemy brothers has in fact deepened. And then, those who are fighting today have never been so armed and trained. Finally, some, like the son of Commander Massoud, say they are ready to take up arms in their region, like Panshir.

What will be the effects of the departure of American troops and NATO countries by 11 September? I’m already hearing about preventive evacuation of expatriates, especially the French! I don’t know what will happen in the coming months, but I do know that humanitarian aid is still essential.

This is not the time to interrupt relief efforts, we must certainly adapt to a major change, as humanitarians may have seemed to be embroiled in the Western coalition at the cost of their principles and are probably less in tune with the populations, especially in rural areas.

Mali, the weak link in the Sahel!

Mohamed Bazoun, the new democratically elected president of Niger, declared on 6 April 2021 in the newspaper Le Figaro “There is a retreat of democracy in Africa”, he added “On all sides, on our borders, we are under threat from jihadist groups…” and he concluded by saying “the weak link of the system is in Mali”.

Mali experienced an army coup on 18 August 2020 that toppled elected president Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, or IBK, whose regime was faltering in the face of street protests by the June 5 Movement RFP supported by the influential Iman Mahmoud Dicko.

Soldiers of the Malian Armed Forces are warmly welcomed at the Independence Square in Bamako on August 18, 2020, after the arrest of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. ©Stringer, AFP

Since then, a transitional government has been set up, with the agreement of ECOWAS. It is headed by a President, Bah Ndaw, a Vice-President, Colonel Assimi Goîta, who led the military movement, and a Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane, with a programme of constitutional revision, territorial redrawing, the fight against corruption and the “reforms the country needs”.

Aid conditions could also change drastically as Joseph Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for relations, told Le Monde on 29 April: “The key word is governance. We may have signed too many blank cheques, provided resources without checking how they were used. And already the next presidential elections are being prepared for the spring of 2022.

Faced with a war that is dragging on and a security situation that is deteriorating, the French military have long been saying that there is no military solution. Some declared that development would do the rest. They didn’t dare say that the solution was political. The coup d’état was a reminder of this. But the situation has changed profoundly since the President of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, announced that he wanted to negotiate with the Malian armed groups that France is fighting with the G5 Sahel, which includes the Malian army!

This position was confirmed by the Prime Minister of the transition, Moctar Ouane, who expressed his government’s wish “to engage in dialogue with all the children of Mali, without exclusion”. France has always been opposed to this, through the voice of Jean-Yves Le Drian, and remains committed to the Algiers Agreements. What will result from this, a strategic repositioning of the Barkhane force, but with what consequences on the ground? Will there be a consensus among the G5 Sahel countries, with what common strategy and for what result? The death of Chadian President Idriss Déby in battle has further weakened the G5 Sahel, the Barkhane force and MINUSMA.

What will this transition period in Mali bring us, status quo or change? In the meantime, the priority for humanitarians is still to respond to the growing needs of an ever-increasing population affected by fighting, global warming and the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, while the price of many foodstuffs is soaring. In West Africa, 31 million people are expected to become food insecure, according to Chris Nikoi, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.

Photo ©Neil Palmer (CIAT) /Flickr CC

In this context, while the coordination of humanitarian aid and development is more necessary than ever, humanitarians are calling on development agencies to put an end to the obligation they impose on their partners to list the beneficiaries of aid, which is contrary to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), to the principles of humanitarian NGOs and to their security.

Finally, in the medium and long term, let us not forget the demographic challenge. In Niger, for example, the population has increased by 600% in 60 years. Today, the population is 24 million, with an average age of 15 years, and is expected to reach 70 million in 2050!

The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion people over the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050. In sub-Saharan Africa, the total population is expected to double by 2050. I fear that we are now embroiled in a permanent emergency that requires a change of scale and pace in the collective response to this major challenge for these countries and their people!

Women in Niger prepare fields for the rainy season as part of an initiative to combat desertification. ©CIAT

Famine threatens the victims of war and Covid-19.

In this edition you will find an interview with Antoine Basbous on “The Middle East on fire” which completes my remarks and the need for humanitarian aid to remobilise. In Syria, 24 million people need support according to the UN, 4 million more than in 2020. At a time when we are commemorating a decade of war in Syria, when the currency has lost almost 99% of its value, donors are only responding to half of the urgent humanitarian needs and the situation is the same for Yemen!

In Lebanon, where the currency has lost 90% of its value against the dollar, whereas there was parity before, 90% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line and 76% are severely vulnerable! The situation is very serious. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 45 countries need emergency food aid this year and 30 million of them are on the verge of famine.

FAO Food and Commodity Price Index, 8 April 2021. ©FAO

As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has just said, “If you don’t feed the people, you feed the war”!

Is war coming back in force?

The trend towards conflict is worrying. While experts have historically observed a decrease in wars and casualties, in 2016 the number of countries experiencing war and violent conflict was at its highest level in 30 years. According to the Conflict Barometer of the Heidelberg Institute for international conflict research (hiik), by 2020 the number of wars and violent crises in the world will have risen from 15 to 21.

The role of humanitarian aid is to provide emergency relief in the wake of wars, disasters and epidemics. The role of Humanitarian Challenges is to analyse the risks in order to respond to them. Today, the risk of conflict involves large states such as China threatening Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine, Turkey in the South Caucasus and the Mediterranean.

This reality led General Lecointre, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (CEMA) to declare a few months ago that France was now preparing for a high-intensity conflict involving states. Similarly, at the end of last year, General Graziano, Chairman of the European Union Military Committee, said: “The threats have never been so close to us.


In a global geopolitical context of the return of states and empires, humanitarians must find ways of reconciling access to relief with the assertion of national sovereignty in the field, including in the poorest countries. This assertion of sovereignty can also have positive effects in terms of ownership of responsibilities and initiatives by poor developing states that are primarily responsible for their own populations. Sovereignty and relief must now be reconciled in order to better respond to the vital needs of populations.

While the worst is never certain, it is always better to be prepared for it if necessary. And this is true for the Covid-19 pandemic, which cannot be defeated until the majority of humanity is vaccinated. The ACT accelerator to help poor states is underfunded while we face a common threat, especially in those countries where containment has more disastrous consequences than elsewhere.

Mali began its Covid-19 vaccination programme with Health Minister Fanta Siby. ©UNICEF/Seyba Keïta

This is why we have high expectations of the summit on the financing of sub-Saharan African economies which will take place on 18 May in Paris and which we will report on in the next edition of Défis Humanitaires at the beginning of June.

Faced with these threats, should humanitarian aid not adapt to become even more effective, faster, more sustainable and closer to the populations at risk?

Alain Boinet.

PS 1/ In this edition you will also find an encouraging article by Antoine Vaccaro on trends in philanthropy and generosity.

PS 2/ I would like to thank you for your donation, however small, on HelloAsso to support Défis Humanitaires which needs it to continue and develop its humanitarian action with you. Thank you.

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