SOS Children's Villages International
By Laurinda Luffman for SOS Children
During the severe drought of 2010, which affected 600,000 people across Mali, aid agencies have been working with government and local officials to avert a new food crisis in the country.
Around 3 million Malians are estimated by the United Nations to be in need of food this year. Now aid operations in the north have had to be suspended, because Tuareg rebels have seized the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. International agencies in the region such as Oxfam, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), Catholic Relief Services and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have all reported the looting of offices and equipment by the rebels. The offices of the the World Food Programme, which distributes the bulk of food aid in the region, were also looted.
Speaking to the news agency IRIN, the head of the NCA in Mali said that in Gao, local people were in hiding and that “everyone’s vehicles have been stolen...every single office has been ransacked”. There are also reports of rapes and violence towards locals in Gao and Timbuktu, though these reports have yet to be confirmed. But local people and particularly women are staying inside their houses out of fear.
Since the army took power in the capital Bamako on 22 March, sanctions are also threatening to disrupt humanitarian operations in the south. Some banks are already running out of cash and once money runs out totally, daily life will be seriously affected. Some aid organisations are negotiating with banks to set aside cash flows so that staff can continue to be paid. Elections had been due to take place in Mali on 29 April, but so far the military junta have yet to set a date for when the country will return to civil constitutional rule.
Meanwhile, many ordinary Malians are in desperate need of food assistance. In Kidal, the ICRC has only been able to manage one main food distribution over recent months because of the unrest in the north. One frustrated agency representative told IRIN of the further punishment the northern rebels were bringing on an already drought-hit region, saying “their relatives are dying in the field and now we can’t do the paperwork required to distribute the food”.
It is also hard to see how the long-term work of agencies will not be affected. Many organisations have been involved in disaster risk reduction programmes in Mali, where a broad range of humanitarian and development schemes are being implemented to create sustainable livelihoods and help avert the risk of future food disasters. Such programmes work with communities over many years – one recent report proposed that a ten-year time frame was required to build capacity in communities before they can fully benefit and progress towards food security. The long term commitment of agencies and locals towards such schemes will be impossible, if security and stability do not return to Mali.