WHD 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why we should not forget about Mali ?

By Maria Mutya Frio, Communications Manager, World Vision West Africa


The French army is leaving soon, the media is now more interested in the Pope and in Pistorius, and the displaced people of Mali are thinking of going back home. Why should we still care about Mali?

More than 10 million people will go hungry in Mali, one of whom is Natasha Kounta, a widower and mother of three children. She fled Timbuktu last year and settled in the capital Bamako along with her cousin and children. Natasha’s plight is no different from the thousands who fled the armed conflict: she was caught unaware of gunshots just outside her home, she gathered her children, took a lorry with very few belongings, traveled for a week and finally settled in Bamako. She and her family live by whatever food she can get for the day.
Last year’s food and nutrition crisis that gripped the Sahel region including Mali is not over yet. The recent armed conflict disrupted markets, harvests were dismal, food prices continued to skyrocket and household food supply dwindled as displaced people were taken in by generous Malian families. And as the next planting season approaches, farmers who lost their livelihoods can no longer afford to buy seeds (or have gone into debt last year), or humanitarian and food assistance remains constrained due to insecurity. FEWSNet predicts that with these factors, Mali could face another food crisis as early as April, particularly in the northern regions.

Displaced Malians were taken in by other families,
straining an already dwindling food supply. Credit: WVI

 And as it stands, about a million children are still highly vulnerable to food insecurity. UNICEF estimates that at least a quarter of all children in Mali under the age of five suffers from malnutrition. No child should ever have to lose his or her life over a disease that is preventable and treatable. One life lost is one too many.

The cycle will go on. The Sahel region has been hit three times in the last seven years by food and nutrition crises primarily due to a “resilience deficit.” Communities lack the capacity and the structures not only to bounce back from chronic hunger caused by low agricultural production and armed conflict, rather they lack the ability to address the structural causes and adopt strategies to withstand shocks.

Children caught in armed conflict need to be protected. We’ve all heard the stories about children being abducted as child brides who were raped or young boys enlisted at rebel camps. Amnesty International’s initial assessment of human rights violations indicated evidence of child soldiers: “These children were carrying rifles. One of them was so small that his rifle was sometimes dragging on the ground.”
Whether children fall into Government custody or integrated back into their communities, it is imperative that they receive appropriate psycho-social support and that their rights as a child be respected. The same goes for children who were exposed to violence, those who fled, whose schooling were disrupted, and those separated from their families. More child protection specialists should be sent on the ground to train communities, health professionals, educators, volunteers and families.

The education of 700,000 children had been affected and 200,000 are still denied access according to UNICEF. That’s boys and girls in various levels whose schooling were disrupted due to the conflict, and are still fearful to go back or with no educational system to go back to. At least 115 schools in the north were closed, destroyed and looted, some of which indicated the presence of unexploded ordinances. Many teachers have not yet returned to work. This has overcrowded schools in the south with the influx of newly displaced children from the north.

As the narrative on Mali fades in the public eye, let’s not forget that our engagement is not over yet. Now more than ever that the Malian people need humanitarian assistance that will hopefully, eventually transition into recovery and further development, with a hope and a prayer that peace and security be restored once again.

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