Claudine Mensah Awute, Country Director with CARE Mali, describes the humanitarian crisis in the West African nation.
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 over 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, whilst many others sought relief and shelter with friends and families in the south of the country.
In recent weeks, Mali has been grabbing headlines as government, French, ECOWAS and Chadian 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 fighting -- wives torn apart from their husbands, children from their parents, families from their communities. 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 are now in need of humanitarian aid.
These numbers can be overwhelming, but behind them, there are people -- in flesh and bone, each with a story of their own. Such as Rokia, a mother of four, who told CARE that she had fled by herself with her four children. Months before, her husband had to flee their village in the north after being attacked by armed groups. She is constantly worried about him and distressed, as she doesn't know how she could fend for her children by herself. Haussa, a mother of four in Bamako, who fled Timbuktu in early January, told us that she would like to return home, though she was well aware there is nothing waiting for her.
The needs are many. As our 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 -- how much 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 year's food crisis.
If action is taken now, lives can be saved.
On January 29, the Consolidated Appeal Process for Mali was launched in Bamako, two months after an international launch. The appeal sums up the global humanitarian needs across the country for the current crisis and is based on assessments by United Nations Agencies and International NGOs. During these two months, less than 1 percent of the US $373 million needed has been funded. Yet, only last week, during the recent Donors Conference in Ethiopia, over $450 million was provided to support military operations in Mali. So obviously, the international community can mobilize resources for Mali, and they can do it fast. CARE and other humanitarian agencies on the ground ask for a similar level of commitment and mobilisation to meet the urgent humanitarian needs as well. Established actors on the ground know what needs to be done, and if funding is made available, relief can be provided quickly.
For the past three weeks, CARE has already been distributing food in two of the five regions which are the worst affected, having reached to-date 54,000 people with essential food items. CARE supports both internally displaced people and host communities who are still recovering from last year's food crisis with programs such as cash for work and the provision of much needed inputs such as tools and seeds to ensure a decent harvest. In the next days, food supplies provided by the World Food Programme will arrive in Timbuktu and CARE and its partners are on the ground, ready to distribute this food to people in need. Over 130,000 people in Timbuktu will receive life saving food supplies over the following months.
CARE's Appeal -- US $6 million for one year -- will fund an emergency response that includes life-saving activities, which include providing access to food, water, sanitation and cash programs for 30,000 families, and better access to school for 25,000 school children who have been displaced due to conflict.
CARE is also responding with long-term development solutions that include disaster risk reduction and food security programs. Many of our activities, including cash and food related, focus on women, as they often suffer the most during times of crisis. CARE is particularly concerned about them.
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.