The Maranville border crossing in northern Benin is one of the busiest crossings in West Africa. Trucks laden with food, humanitarian aid and industrial materials usually flow freely into neighboring Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world.
A line of thousands of trucks stretches 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the muddy banks of the Niger River, which marks the border. Stalled for weeks, drivers hang their clothes between tracks. Away from the border guards, small merchants load wooden boats with goods to cross rain-beaten rivers.
The backlog is one of the most visible signs to date of the impact of the sanctions imposed on Niger by the regional bloc ECOWAS following the July 26 military coup.
The blockade is aimed at putting pressure on the military government to restore President Mohammed Bazoom. In the process, food prices in Niger have soared during bad seasons, crippling industries and threatening medicine shortages, aid agencies, officials and residents said.
“I don’t know if we were taken hostage or what,” said Suremane, a Nigerian truck driver who has been stuck at the border for more than 20 days with cargoes of sugar and oil. . “No food, no water, no place to sleep.”
There are still few signs that sanctions have made the military regime less popular. Thousands of people took to the streets last Sunday in support of the coup, some with anti-ECOWAS placards.
Mali’s military leaders appeared to grow in popularity when ECOWAS imposed sanctions on the country after coups in 2020 and 2021.
Millions can’t even eat one meal a day
Around 6,000 tonnes of supplies from the World Food Programme, including cereals, cooking oil and food for malnourished children, remain outside Niger, according to World Food Program regional spokesman Jaunsede Majangal.
Residents said there was still food on Niamey’s shelves, but prices were soaring. Since the sanctions were announced, rice prices have risen 21% and sorghum prices have risen 14%, according to the United Nations WFP.
The WFP supplies were intended to alleviate a hunger crisis already plaguing Niger, where Islamist insurgency has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
About 3 million people struggle to get one meal a day. According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the crisis could push another 7 million people into the same category.
“Ultimately, 10 million people could end up unable to feed themselves,” Majangar said. “Humanitarian needs are growing.”
WFP and UNICEF said there was no need to scale back their operations in Niger just yet, but warned the time was running out. In Niger, which has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, the disruption could be devastating.
UNICEF containers are stuck at the border and Benin’s Cotonou port. Cold chain equipment and vaccines risk losing efficacy. These include doses for fatal rotavirus infections in children, officials said in an emailed comment.
Meanwhile, ECOWAS and the military government are still at odds. The alliance has threatened military intervention if consultations and other efforts to pressure the junta fail.
Coup leader General Abdulrahmane Tiani said in a speech on Saturday, “These sanctions are not aimed at finding a solution, but at bringing us to their knees and humiliating us.”
business slows down
Sanctions aren’t just threatening Niger’s food and aid supplies. Tiani said electricity was cut in Nigeria, putting health care in hospitals at risk.
Niamey-based entrepreneur Maxim Cadder told Reuters he had to stop selling poultry incubators because of shortages of plywood and electricity.
Large infrastructure projects are also affected. A freeze on the flow of funds in the region has halted the construction of a China-led dam project aimed at boosting food security.
The 7% economic growth forecast for this year is based on the expected opening of an oil pipeline from Niger to Benin, but how the coup will affect work towards completing a PetroChina (601857.SS)-backed project. It is not clear what the impact was. PetroChina did not respond to a request for comment.
Local officials said several vehicles lined up at the Mallanville intersection, marked WAPCO, a company working to build the pipeline. Reuters was unable to independently confirm this.
At the border, many drivers seemed prepared for a long wait. Some build makeshift tents and cook on small charcoal stoves, others run out of money and are looking for food.
“There is no other way out, so we need to reassess the situation,” said Mahamat Adi Saleh, a Nigerian truck driver. “This is the place where everyone goes.”
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