Crisis in Mali: Let”s Not Forget Those Who Have Suffered
by Claudine Mensah Awute, CARE Mali country director
About a year ago, the world started to watch with alarm the growing number of people suffering from a severe food crisis engulfing the Sahel region, which, at its peak, affected more than 18 million people.
To make things worse, Mali, once one of the most stable and peaceful countries of the region, saw an escalation of violence as fighting erupted in the north of the country. Thousands of families spilled into neighboring countries, taking refuge in camps hastily patched together on the border of Niger or Mauritania, while many others sought relief and shelter with friends and families in the south of the country.
In recent weeks, Mali has been grabbing headlines troops continue their fight against armed groups in the north of the country.
Every day, there has been news of the troops reaching one town after another. But what has been grabbing fewer, or no headlines at all, is the number of people who have been forced to flee their homes amidst the fightingÃÂ. They have been forced to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs. And the numbers keep growing. During three weeks in January alone, there have been nearly 18,000 refugees and 12,000 displaced people in Mali.
More than 4.3 million people in Mali are now in need of humanitarian aid.
These numbers can be overwhelming, but behind them, there are people â in flesh and bone, each with a story of their own:
Rokia is a mother of four, who told CARE she fled with her four children. Months before, her husband left their village in the north because of attacks. Rokia is constantly worried about him, and distressed as she doesnât know how she will fend for her children by herself. Haussa also is a mother of four. Sheâs now in Bamako after leaving Timbuktu in early January. She told us that she would like to return home though she is well aware there is nothing waiting for her there.
The needs are many. As CAREâs recent assessments have shown, displaced families lack even the most basic necessities. They are in desperate need of food, water, adequate shelter and essential items, such as kitchen utensils, blankets, mats and soap.
For those who are planning to return home, the unknown awaits â how many of their belongings have been stolen? What about the next harvest and will they be able to plant?
And there is a need to come to the aid of those living in trying circumstances in various refugee camps across the border, all of them still suffering from the strain of last yearâs food crisis.
If action is taken now, lives can be saved.
For the past three weeks, CARE has been distributing food in two of the five regions most affected, having reached 54,000 people with essential food items. CARE is supporting both internally displaced people and host communities, who are still recovering from last yearâs food crisis, with cash-for-work programs and the provision of tools and seeds to help ensure a decent harvest.
In the coming days, food from the World Food Program will arrive in Timbuktu, and CARE and our partners are on the ground, ready to distribute the food more than 130,000 people.
Our emergency response will include providing access to food, water, sanitation and cash programs for 30,000 families, and helping 25,000 children return to school. Weâre also responding with long-term development solutions that include disaster risk reduction and food security programs. Many of our activities will focus on women, as they often suffer the most during times of crisis.
Mali is a clear example where aid will save lives. It is the very essence of why most donors support our aid program. It is also why so many individuals give donations. Despite the fact that Mali and its people might be a world away, they are in dire need of our help. And they need it now.