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.

Humanitarian Challenges: Assessment 2020, Outlook 2021.

The purpose of this site is to promote and strengthen humanitarian action, to shed light on the link between humanitarian and geopolitical issues and finally, to identify and document the major challenges which are as many threats, such as the Covid-19 epidemic.This assessment and these perspectives are of course not exhaustive. Rather, they seek to highlight some facts and trends and, in conclusion, to illustrate the action of this site which intends to be a humanitarian actor in its own way.

Water distribution and Covid-19 safety precautions, Myanmar, 2020 / ©Solidarités International

Assessment 2020

To get to the heart of the matter, the two major facts that mark 2020 have been the global spread of the Covid-19 virus from China and the continuation, if not the deterioration, of the main conflicts. Let us also mention the 5th National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) in Paris on December 17th to which all the articles are devoted in this edition.

The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of Covid-19. Appeared at the beginning of the year (December-January), the virus then spread rapidly on a global scale.

According to the WHO, as of January the 5th of 2021, there were 84 million cases and 1,800,000 deaths worldwide. While the most worrying prognoses have fortunately been thwarted in Africa, where health systems are weakened, there are 64,790 deaths and 2,280,488 cases, nearly half of which are in South Africa. Currently, the pandemic is most deadly in Europe and the Americas.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates the economic losses at $1 trillion and, while the most developed countries have succeeded in mobilizing the resources necessary to protect their population, this is not the case for 6 billion human beings, including a large and unskilled workforce, highly dependent on the informal economy.

The other humanitarian front is the one of the major crises that have not diminished – quite the contrary – and none of them have been resolved: whether it is Yemen on the brink of famine, the Middle East and particularly Syria, or northeastern Nigeria. Nothing positive either for the Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh or in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where chaos is thriving. As for the Sahel, the military and security situation continue to deteriorate and is leading always more populations into vulnerability.

©Réseau Logistique Humanitaire

In this chaotic context, humanitarians aid workers have been facing the interruption of almost all air transport, the closure of borders and thus supply chains. They had to show resilience, adaptation and innovation. This is why the NGOs of the Humanitarian Logistics Network (Réseau Logistique Humanitaire – RLH), in complementarity with the World Food Programme (WFP), set up a European humanitarian air bridge with the help of the Crisis and Support Center (Centre de Crise et de Soutien – CDCS) of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the European Commission with ECHO. It enabled to organize 42 flights to priority destinations, to transport 1208 passengers and 785 tons of freight. Adaptation is a key word for humanitarian action, which must draw all the lessons learned in 2020 in order to implement them in 2021.

Let us recall that at the end of 2019, the United Nations (OCHA) launched a call for $29 billion for 2020 to help 168 million people, 22 million more than the previous year. Since then, Covid-19 has greatly increased the most basic needs.

Outlook 2021

“The Covid-19 pandemic changed the landscape of humanitarian response by making 235 million people dependent on international aid. This is a 40% increase over the same period last year,” according to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

According to David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Nobel Peace laureate in 2020, “the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to trigger another ‘pandemic’, that of famine”. He adds, “A total of 270 million people will face extreme hunger in 2021. He also points out that about 3 million children die of hunger and malnutrition every year in the world.

In fact, an increasing number of populations are at risk in countries already facing serious humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Burkina Faso, Southern Sudan, Northeastern Kenya and Afghanistan and the Sahel are very vulnerable. Syria will still be at the forefront of basic needs with an additional 2 million people to be assisted.

Flood in Central African Republic, 2019 / ©Solidarités International

This crisis overlaps and accelerates another one, that of refugees and displaced persons in the world. While the average number of refugees and displaced persons was 40 million between 1990 and 2010, this figure will rise to almost 80 million in 2019 and is expected to increase further as a result of a virus bringing vulnerabilities, tensions and conflicts.

While none of the major conflicts are on the way to appeasement and resolution, we fear that some may even lead to famines as in Yemen. The explosion in the port of Beirut, the war in Nagorno Karabakh, the serious risk of an intensification of the conflict in Afghanistan, which is experiencing a chronic shortage of cereals, are early signs of deterioration which have clearly led the UN to launch a record appeal of 35 billion dollars for 230 million people in need in 2021 against an appeal of 29 billion dollars last year.

But will the mobilization of financial resources get along with the urgency of the needs? Many voices are worried, including that of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres, and fear “terrible cuts” given the economic losses and massive investments in social protection in OECD countries that are the main donors of international aid.

And since the vaccine is arriving and vaccination is starting, especially in the most affected countries, vaccination in the most fragile and exposed countries must already be planned according to this or that mechanism, in particular the one set up by the World Health Organization (ACT, COVAX).

In such a situation, which will last – and no doubt worsen over time this year – humanitarian aid is the life insurance for populations at risk and it must work quickly and effectively.

What added value for the 5th National Humanitarian Conference?

During the 5th National Humanitarian Conference held on December 17 in Paris in the presence of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the latter asked the crucial question “what is most urgent”?

Mark Lowcock answered without hesitation “famine and aid to the most fragile countries. The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Janez Lenarcic, prioritized “the impact of Covid-19 on the world economy and the social consequences”. For Philippe Jahshan, President of Coordination Sud, which brings together humanitarian and development NGOs, “the emergency is the supply chains and the mobilization of massive financial resources to avoid the worst”. As we can see, these priorities are intertwined and complement each other.

If we try to briefly summarize this NHC, knowing that we will come back to it in the next edition at the beginning of February, we can say that the main expectations of humanitarian NGOs were the following:

  • That the Covid-19 crisis serve as a spurt for the anticipation of crises, prevention, mutualization and reinforcement of complementarity between international and national actors.
  • That the budgetary commitments for ODA (0.55% of GNI) and humanitarian aid (500 ME) be met in 2022.
  • That International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and independence be respected and that access to populations in danger be allowed.
  • To refuse the screening of aid beneficiaries under IHL, for the access of aid and the security of humanitarians in the field of crises.
  • To limit security screening of providers, partners and staff at the beginning of each new program and then on a regular basis of 2 to 3 times a year depending on the case.
  • To strengthen humanitarian-development synergy in conjunction with local actors without being in charge of peace, which is the responsibility of political decision-makers.
  • That all humanitarian actors take fully into account in their action the fight against climate change, for the environment and biodiversity.
  • That humanitarian actors benefit from an exemption from the anti-terrorist laws that put them at risk and that French criminal law integrates IHL.

After noting that impunity was becoming the rule and that security was deteriorating dangerously for humanitarians, Emmanuel Macron declared “France will be your ally”.

The President of the Republic made the following commitments:

  • Re-commitment to Official Development Assistance, a moratorium on the debt of African countries, and the issuance of monetary drawing rights. Following the recent G20 summit, France will organize a Summit on the financing of African economies in May 2021 in Paris.
  • It supports the creation of a post of special correspondent to the UN Secretary General for the preservation of humanitarian space.
  • He proposes the creation of a joint technical commission to strengthen the investigation of crimes against humanitarians.
  • That a solution be found within the next 6 months to facilitate NGO bank transfers and the publication of a “Pedagogical Guide”.
  • The President asked the Keeper of the Seals (the French Lord Chancellor) to send a circular to all public prosecutors’ offices in France to make them aware of the IHL that applies to NGOs.
  • He evoked an improvement in the exemption from sanctions for NGOs, on a case-by-case basis, in the face of anti-terrorist laws.
  • He reiterated his commitment that France will devote 0.55% of its GNI to ODA in 2022 on an increasing trajectory, as well as a budget of 500 ME for humanitarian aid.
  • In this 48th edition of Défis Humanitaires you will find several articles on the CNH and we will come back to it in our next edition at the beginning of February.

And to conclude, assessment and outlooks for the Défis Humanitaires website.

As a site publishing these articles, analyses, interviews, we also wish to share with you a summary of our achievements in 2020 and our projects this year.

In 2020, we published 13 editions and 51 articles written by 30 authors. The number of readers was 33,529 for 21,370 in 2019 and 11,116 in 2018. This tripling of the number of readers is a good indication of the interest generated by Défis Humanitaires and we thank you and the authors for their contribution.

The 10 most read articles were about the NHC, the protection and exemption of humanitarians from anti-terrorist laws, Covid-19, the Sahel, the humanitarian’s security and demography in the Sahel.

This year, we plan to update and promote the site’s model, strengthen the editorial staff, improve the photos, publish a monthly edition and, finally, publish the 2nd edition of the Study on French humanitarian NGOs abroad for the period 2006 – 2019.

But let’s be frank, in order to achieve this, we need your financial support. To continue and develop after 3 years and 48 editions, this free site now needs some financial resources. You will find the presentation of this project for which we thank you in advance for your donation on HelloAsso.

I present you my best wishes for you and your loved ones for the new year.

Alain Boinet.