WHD 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Kitchen gardens: one step towards resilience in the Sahel?


In the East Batha region, in Chad, located at the heart of the Sahel and badly affected by food insecurity, ACTED is mobilised to help the most vulnerable populations. In order to give long-term solutions to food security problems, ACTED is supporting 35 villages in the set up of kitchen gardens. In each village, several vulnerable households have come together to create a cooperative.
Seed and tools have been distributed and are necessary to start a kitchen garden, access to water has been guaranteed and trainings have been conducted, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID/OFDA).

Reaping the fruits

Habsita lives in the village of Tchakani, where one of the kitchen gardens was developed. She is 39 years old, married and has eight children. She often finds it difficult to feed eight mouths. In 2012, Habsita had to borrow money during the lean period, when stocks were depleted and prices on the markets are high, in order to feed her family. She then had to use all the earnings from the cereal harvest to repay her debt.
Habsita is now part of a group of 25 people that are harvesting a plot of land of one hectare on the edge of the river Batha. The group is working hard, under the scorching sun, to grow carrots, lettuce and other vegetables that will help them cover their needs during the lean period.
ACTED supports 35 villages with the implementation of kitchen gardens
and the support to gardeners groups. © ACTED.
Habsita is very eager to continue working on the kitchen garden: “The kitchen garden changed my life and can already see the result of my efforts. I am proud to learn and to be able to produce rather than depend on others.” With her child on her back, Habsita is tirelessly working in the field. “work in the field is hard, and not many people can do it. I am hoping that we can continue to work as a cooperative.”
In a region where agriculture is showing very meager outputs because of severe shocks, the development of kitchen gardens is one step ahead towards resilience. By varying their food sources, households are improving their food security and nutrition situation. Step by step, communities are reinforcing their livelihoods: “At the end of this year’s work, I will be able to go through the rainy season without having to borrow money because the harvest will be good,” concludes Habsita.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Community-based treatment for malnutrition earns praise in northern Nigeria

By Roar Bakke Sorenson, UNICEF

More than a half million children in northern Nigeria have been treated for malnutrition with peanut paste provided by UNICEF. Now villagers refer to the old Hausa kings of West Africa when speaking of the well-being of children, calling them the ‘Children of the King’.
KIYAWE, Nigeria, 23 July 2013 – Nigeria’s rates of childhood stunting and wasting are among the highest in the world, particularly in the north, where the country reaches into the Sahel region. In many cases these conditions can be life threatening if not treated properly.
In 2009, in collaboration with the Nigerian Government, UNICEF started a pilot project based on research recommending treatment of malnourished children in their home communities, rather than in far-off hospitals or health clinics, a treatment that often comes with an enormous cost for the family.
A baby is tested for malnutrition at the health centre. Credit: UNICEF
Fatima Yashia is one of the mothers who brought her child, 22-month-old Osman, to the Katanga primary health care centre for treatment. Osman is one of more than 500,000 children who have been through the programme in northern Nigeria in the last five years. Eating ready-to-use therapeutic food over a period of eight weeks, children are able to recover quickly from malnutrition.
The Community Management of Acute Malnutrition programme treats children at a decentralized outpatient therapeutic site. There, the mother and child are weighed, and the children are measured and checked for medical complications. Those with severe acute malnutrition are given a therapeutic peanut paste and vitamins. Mothers receive enough supplies to take home for a week and are told to return every week for the next two months.
UNICEF supports 495 health centres in 11 states in northern Nigeria.
“Even before I came here, I praised what they were doing, and now when I’m receiving, I am still grateful,” Ms. Yashia says. “Many people from the towns and villages praise this programme, and villagers call those children ‘the children of the king’ because they all look so very healthy. And even I received this for my child today, and I am happy. I want to thank God and the Government for this initiative.”
For more go to www.unicef.org


Thursday, July 25, 2013


When it rains in Mali, it pours

By Anouk Delafortrie, Regional  Information Officer in Dakar, ECHO

“I am worried about my parents. I’ve not spoken to them since we came here. They’re old. Travel is difficult for them so they stayed behind. My husband tells me they’re fine but I find it hard to believe. I would like to return but we have no money. My husband goes out every day to find work in town. If he finds some we eat, if he doesn’t we don’t,” says Assa with a grave expression while her daughter huddles up to her.
Assa shares a dilapidated room with her four children. Her husband, his second wife and their six children live in the room next door. She’s afraid to sleep after the first rains sent mud flowing down the walls. The wooden sticks that form the ceiling look dangerously bent as if they could collapse anytime. But they can’t afford to move to a safer place, they already owe two months’ rent as it is.

Funded by the EU, teams of Handicap International (HI) are on their daily round of visits in Sévaré, a garrison town on the crossroads between the country’s north and south, close to the town of Mopti. Some 40 000 Malians sought refuge here as conflict up north dislocated their lives. Sévaré itself nearly fell into the hands of non-state armed groups in January 2013 when fighters launched a bold offensive and advanced within 20 km of the town in an apparent effort to take control of its military airport. Fears of a ‘push through’ to the south were what triggered France’s military intervention on 11 January.
Six months later people in Sévaré seem to be going about their business except for many of the displaced families who feel stuck in a place that has shown them remarkable hospitality, yet isn’t home. With the onset of the rainy season the window of opportunity to cultivate their land in time for the harvest is slowly closing and with it comes the realisation that they may be dependent on aid for many more months to come.
When Assa’s family fled their village in the region of Douentza, with fighters on their heels, they didn’t take any belongings nor did they remember to bring identity papers. Their new neighbours gave them clothes, cooking utensils and a washbasin, but without papers they weren’t able to officially register as ‘internally displaced’ and are thus excluded from certain types of assistance.
The European Commission´s humanitarian aid and civil protection department (ECHO) funds Handicap International to seek out the most vulnerable families like Assa’s and connect them with services and actors in order to improve their housing situation and provide access to food assistance and health care. HI also helps individuals with physiotherapy or mental health needs. During the visit Assa mentions she has a belly ache.  This could be a consequence of the unpurified water she drinks or a psychosomatic reaction to the stresses of her new living conditions.
HI’s psycho-social advisor Laetitia Rancillac has hired five mobile teams, each composed of a psychologist and a social worker, to identify people with specific needs. “It is common for people who’ve lived through armed conflict to experience troubles related to loss and mourning. They’ve lost their bearings, their property, their status; some have witnessed violence which can result in post-traumatic stress disorder,” Laetitia explains.
When one of HI’s psycho-social duos visits Fatoumata she complains about a humming in her head, as if continuously reliving the bombardments on the armed group’s  base close to her home. Barely audible she recounts the events: “I was out at the river doing the laundry when the bombing started. Shells were flying over our heads. I saw a woman faint. After that, I couldn’t do anything for three days.” Fatoumata also recalls other events that made a profound impression on her, like when the neighbour’s boy picked up a grenade, threw it in the air and by doing so wounded his friend who, conscious of the impending danger, had started to run away.
She took her two children to her brother’s home in Sévaré while her husband stayed behind in Gao to take care of the house. “At first I felt a lot of anger, I felt violated. Now, I’m just sad,” she says listlessly casting her eyes down. Fatoumata’s brother seems happy with HI’s suggestion for her to join a group where she can discuss and share her feelings with people who’ve had similar experiences: “We don’t want her to go back like this. We want her to get better first.”
In Mopti, ECHO funds Handicap International to ensure the most vulnerable among the displaced people get the assistance they need. The organisation also provides help to people with mental health or physiotherapy needs and engages in explosive ordnance disposal.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


UNHCR helps prepare for refugees to vote in Mali elections, voices concerns over voter registration

By the UN Refugee Agency

With the first round of Mali's presidential elections scheduled for Sunday, UNHCR is continuing preparations with the Malian authorities and neighbouring states for out-of-country voting for refugees. Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger host some 173,000 Malian refugees who fled their country when conflict erupted in January 2012.
UNHCR's role in the elections is to facilitate their participation and ensure the voluntary nature of the electoral process in a safe environment. "Our role is humanitarian and non-political only," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards stressed, adding that the refugee agency in June conducted formal and informal surveys in major refugee areas through discussion groups.
"The surveys found that refugees were generally in favour of being included in the elections, that they have good awareness of the situation in Mali, and that some believe the elections will help peace and stability – a fundamental condition for many refugees in deciding whether to return to their country," he said.
Malian refugees in Mauritania. UNHCR is trying to ensure that eligible refugees can vote in the Mali election at the weekend © UNHCR/B.Malum
UNHCR teams in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania have been meeting with refugee communities to clearly explain the agency's role in facilitating participation and respecting neutrality. The agency has helped transport some election-related materials. However, transportation of sensitive materials, such as voters' cards or ballots papers, will be the responsibility of the Malian electoral authorities and the countries of asylum.
Malian authorities visited refugee camps and other sites in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger in June to establish willingness to vote. In total 19,020 refugees have voluntarily registered to take part, out of 73,277 refugees of voting age (18 and above). Names were then verified against the biometric civil registry, which was last updated in 2011 and used to establish the electoral lists.
UNHCR is concerned that only a low number of names of refugees interested in voting were found in the registry. In Burkina Faso, and according to Malian registration teams, 876 out of the 3,504 registered refugees were found in the civil registry; 8,409 out of 11,355 registered refugees in Mauritania, and 932 out 4,161 registered refugees in Niger. In other words, only around half the refugees who have volunteered to take part in the election have so far been found in the registry.
As concerning, are reports that only a few NINA (national identification number) voting cards have so far been provided by Malian authorities to refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. In Burkina Faso, for instance, only 32 NINA cards have at this point reached the Malian representation. The delay in the issuance and distribution of NINA cards is not specific to refugees but is also impacting many Malian citizens within Mali as well as abroad.
"It is important that the Malian authorities quickly make public the voters' lists and speed distribution of the electoral cards in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania. This is especially important as refugee camps and sites are located in remote areas, where access may become difficult with the rainy season now settling in. The Malian authorities have informed us that they are considering alternatives to allow refugees to vote in case of further delays.
More than 173,500 Malians have found refuge in neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict in January 2012, including 49,975 in Burkina Faso, 48,710 in Niger, 74,907 in Mauritania and 1,500 in Algeria. About 353,000 persons are also internally displaced, according to the Commission de Mouvement de Population in Mali.

For more go to www.unhcr.org
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Monday, July 22, 2013


Mieux produire pour mieux vivre

Par World Vision Mali

A Barakolombougou, un village situé à une centaine de kilomètres de Bamako, les communautés espèrent récolter en abondance cette année. Leur espoir n’est pas seulement fondé sur la quantité de pluie, mais elles comptent sur la fiabilité des terres qu’elles ont apprêtées suivant des techniques de régénération naturelle assistée et de préservation de sols récemment acquises grâce à l’appui de World Vision.

« Avec une bonne pluviométrie, nous sommes certains de récolter abondamment cette année, et peut être même plus que nous n’aurions besoin pour notre nourriture », dit Fragnan Coulibaly, un sexagénaire et président du comité villageois pour la pratique de la régénération naturelle assistée, le FMNR (Farmer managed natural regeneration).

Après quelques séances de formation, les communautés ont réalisé que les déficits agricoles de ces dernières années n’étaient pas seulement liés à l’insuffisance des pluies, mais aussi à la gestion qu’elles font de leurs terres.

C’est ainsi que pour contribuer dans la recherche d’une solution durable à l’insécurité alimentaire quasi récurrente qui maintient les communautés rurales dans une situation de vulnérabilité permanente, World Vision a choisi la résilience pour rendre les communautés autonomes et responsables de leur devenir.

Grâce à l’appui du Gouvernement du Royaume Uni, l’organisation a mis en place un projet de résilience pour promouvoir la gestion communautaire des ressources à travers la régénération naturelle assistée et la préservation des sols par des techniques de lutte contre l’érosion tels que le cordon pierreux ou la technique du Zai pour retenir l’eau et aussi l’élaboration du compost qui augmente naturellement et considérablement la production agricole.

Quant à Mahamane Sanogo, Coordinateur du projet et Ingénieur agro-forestier « les communautés ont accueilli ces techniques avec un vif intérêt, car juste après la démonstration plusieurs personnes ont déjà commencé à pratiquer les techniques apprises dans leurs champs, ce qui nous laisse croire que d’ici peu, les paysans eux-mêmes pourraient répliquer les connaissances acquises aux communautés avoisinantes. »
Pour plus d'informations visitez www.wvi.org

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tackling hunger in the Sahel: the challenge of resilience


By Technical Cooperation and Development

Food crisis, drought, chronic hunger, rising food prices: the Sahel region continues yet again to suffer from recurrent food and nutrition crises. After 2005 and 2010, the populations of the Sahel region have had to face yet another crisis in 2012, following a disastrous agricultural season in 2011. The succession of droughts leads to inevitable negative consequences for the capacities of millions of people to meet their essential food needs in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa: drought leads to a reduction in agricultural production and rising food prices on consumption markets which affects the most vulnerable households that are highly impacted by the rise in commodity prices.
The food crisis of 2012 in the Sahel, in Niger, Chad, Sudan as well as Mali, Mauritania and Senegal, considerably deteriorated the food security situation of some 18 million people and led to a rise in mortality for undernourished children. At the height of the crisis in mid-2012, certain areas of Mauritania, North Mali and the Sahel region in Chad were faced with “extreme” food insecurity, the level before “famine”, while many other areas were considered to be in “critical” situations.
A major crisis has nevertheless been avoided thanks to humanitarian actors’ mobilisation through emergency interventions. However, despite a good rainy season and a relatively good agricultural and pastoral 2012/2013 season, the negative effects of the food crisis in the Sahel in 2012 are still being felt and lead to difficult access to food and necessary nutriments for the vulnerable populations, especially during the lean period, the time between the stock depletion and the following crop.

A chronic and structural food crisis

The Sahel is facing chronic food insecurity and high malnutrition levels, even during good agricultural seasons. In Chad, even though the production levels rose by 91% since the previous year, 2.1 million people are suffering from food insecurity, including 1.5 million in the Sahel region. In the most affected regions such as the Batha region, over 50% of the population cannot cover their daily basic food needs. In Mali, 2 million people are suffering from food insecurity and the maternal and child mortality rate is one of the highest in the world (13th country out of 136).
The series of crises is a first factor of chronic vulnerability for households in the Sahel region. The frequent food and nutritional crises do not allow vulnerable populations to have enough time to recover and thus contribute to a progressive erosion of their livelihoods. On top of these recurrent food crises, other external shocks also contribute to the reduction of the populations’ resistance capacities. The combination of climate, sanitation, social or economic factors such as the lack of basic infrastructure or services can explain the continued food insecurity that reigns in the Sahel region.
Political instability in the region (political crises, conflict, violence, population displacement, refugees, etc.) also contribute to render the security and humanitarian situation more complicated and to reduce the possibility to set up long-term solutions.
Douentza Mali (OCHA Mali)
These structural and cyclical factors led to the worsening of the general food and nutrition situation for the populations in the region in 2012, whose livelihoods are eroded, and who have to then turn to self-destructive survival methods such as debt, selling their productive assets such as livestock, reducing their daily food intake, consuming poorer seeds or foods, etc. These irreversible methods also impede on the populations’ capacity to recover and prepare for a future crisis.
Emergency responses help to tackle the effect of a cyclical crisis, and at best to avoid a major catastrophe by bringing short term responses (so-called quick impact projects) to the vital needs of the populations: food distributions or coupons, money transfers, protection of their productive assets, general cash distributions, food fairs, nutrition, as well as water, hygiene and sanitation interventions. However, it is neither sustainable nor desirable to bring an immediate response, with the risk of creating a dependency towards this type of aid.

Insufficient emergency responses: a mitigated assessment

Nowadays, the necessity to address the deep, structural causes of malnutrition and food insecurity in a multi-sector and sustainable framework, and not only in terms of emergency responses, lies in the ethos but also in real commitment. Structural development programmes have to be set up to enable the most vulnerable populations to resist to shocks and crises. Fostering resilience is also a way to facilitate long-term development.
Programmes that link humanitarian emergency relief and development have become scarce and difficult to implement, especially because of the restrictions imposed by certain donors with regards to the financing that limits the timeframe and ambition of the programmes, and thus the possibility of a sustainable response to a crisis.
Nevertheless, if situations such as the food crisis in the Sahel in 2012 allow decision-makers and donors to respond to such crises, they are also an opportunity to raise the awareness of these international actors to chronic food vulnerability situations. They also encourage using sustainable response mechanisms, by putting forward efficiency, relevance and the impact of the long-term development programmes to support populations in terms of productive capacities and resilience.
Addressing the causes of chronic vulnerability in order to reinforce resilience capacities
Responding to food and nutritional crises in a sustainable way underlines the need to tackle the structural causes of malnutrition and food insecurity in the area, as well as to assist populations in terms of their capacities to to deal with chronic stress (climate hazards, hunger gaps) and to shocks (food crises, armed conflicts, refugee influx), that are inevitable for some cases and are intrinsically linked to the recurrent drought in the region.
The objective is to foresee and prepare for these crises beforehand, to reduce their impact for the most vulnerable communities and to foster recovery after external shocks, by limiting the effects of food crises in the short and middle term in terms of health, income, means, development opportunities and household safety.
The response must be multi-sector and sustainable by focusing on a response to crumbling livelihoods, community development (rehabilitating infrastructure to relieve them from isolation, setting up and ensuring access to markets, creating groups of food farmers and providing storage buildings or managing natural resources, etc) and to foster infrastructure, and individual and collective capacities in terms of water, sanitation, health, education, etc. (strengthening the health system’s human and institutional capacities, improving access to water by building wells and increasing the network as well as building adapted infrastructure, etc).
This integrated approach includes improving food security (agriculture support, provision of seeds, tools and agricultural inputs, improving farming techniques, irrigation, diversification of livelihoods, livestock support and recapitalisation, distribution of fodder during the pastoral lean period, animal health, improved breeding techniques, etc..), supporting households’ economic recovery after a shock (for reconstruction / recapitalisation of livelihoods while avoiding the use of destructive survival strategies), the contribution to the fight against malnutrition (prevention, screening and management of acute malnutrition, sensitisation to good nutrition and hygiene practices and distribution of hygiene kits, support to health centres to improve the quality of the management of malnutrition and access to healthcare, etc..).
Resilience is the ability of people to emerge stronger from a crisis situation, or at least without being weakened by a crisis. Being resilient also means to be able to analyze one’s own vulnerability and adapt to a disturbed context (post-crisis). To do so, people must be familiar with the environment and the elements that could impact the future on a daily basis (by knowledge of past crises and recurrent crises). This requires the establishment of monitoring systems for disaster risk reduction and early warning systems to foresee crises that might occur with ad hoc mechanisms, but especially in the long term.

Financing to tackle resilience

The Sahel is now in a recovery phase whose outcome will determine the ability of people to cope with shocks created by a difficult environment and climate events that regularly hit the area. Allowing the implementation of programmes to promote resilience among the most vulnerable populations also requires an adaptation from the donors in the management of funds. This is an essential requirement to break the cycle of recurring food crises in the Sahel. We have to make this choice today to contain a predictable humanitarian disaster.

For more go to http://www.acted.org/
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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

108 millions de dollars pour répondre aux besoins des plus vulnérables en Mauritanie

Par Zahra Cheikh Malainine, OCHA Mauritanie

La communauté humanitaire de la Mauritanie a procédé à la revue à mi-parcours de l’appel consolidé 2013. Grâce à un travail  conjoint de recadrage stratégique autour des communautés affectées, la requête pour répondre aux besoins des plus vulnérables est passée de 180 millions à 108 millions de dollars.

A l’instar des autres pays du Sahel, la Mauritanie se remet toujours de la crise alimentaire et nutritionnelle de 2012 causée par une combinaison de facteurs mêlant sécheresse, insuffisance des pluies, mauvaises récoltes et hausse des prix des denrées alimentaires.  Cette crise avait mis près d’un million de mauritaniens dans une situation d'insécurité alimentaire.
Crédit : PAM

C’est dans ce contexte que  la Mauritanie a lancé en novembre 2012 un processus d’appel consolidé (CAP) pour 2013 d’un montant initial de 180 millions de dollars afin de faire face aux effets persistants de la crise alimentaire et nutritionnelle et aux besoins croissants des réfugiés maliens.

Malgré une pluviométrie satisfaisante et une bonne récolte en 2012, près de 800 000  personnes seraient toujours en situation d’insécurité alimentaire en 2013. En dépit d’une relative amélioration de la prévalence de l’insécurité alimentaire en zone rurale, de nouvelles poches de vulnérabilité apparaissent en zone urbaine et au nord du pays jusque-là épargnées.
Par ailleurs, l’afflux des réfugiés maliens vers la Mauritanie s’est accentué depuis l’intervention militaire au Nord Mali en janvier 2013 pour atteindre près de 75 500 personnes. Cette présence des réfugiés  dans le camp de Mberra, au sud-est du pays,  constitue  une pression supplémentaire à la fois sur les communautés d’accueil, fortement vulnérables et démunies, et sur l’environnement.
Intersos / Espace Amis des enfants - Camp de Mberra. Mauritanie
A mi-parcours et conformément aux critères globaux, il incombait aux acteurs humanitaires de procéder à une évaluation approfondie des progrès accomplis, d’analyser les éventuels changements contextuels et de décider, ensemble, du maintien ou de la révision de la stratégie adoptée six mois auparavant.
Les efforts entrepris collectivement par l’ensemble de la communauté humanitaire, au travers d’ateliers de travail et de différentes réunions facilitées par le Bureau de la Coordination des Affaires humanitaires (OCHA), ont permis de dresser un état des lieux fidèle de la situation humanitaire en Mauritanie.  Ces travaux ont conclu que la Mauritanie continue aujourd’hui de subir les effets d’une crise multidimensionnelle à la fois alimentaire et nutritionnelle et de réfugiés. L’évolution de certains facteurs tant internes (période de soudure, fluctuation des prix des denrées alimentaires de base, baisse des revenus des ménages)  qu’externes (afflux de réfugiés maliens) maintient un niveau de vulnérabilité élevé parmi les populations affectées. 
Pour répondre efficacement aux besoins de ces populations affectées, il a été décidé de maintenir la stratégie préconisée en novembre 2012. Néanmoins, dans un souci de crédibilité tant à l’égard des bailleurs que des bénéficiaires et pour une meilleure appréhension des défis à relever dans le temps imparti, un effort de recadrage de l’appel, en termes de cibles mais également de zones prioritaires,  autour des projets les plus pertinents, a été effectué. Cette nouvelle approche a permis de réduire le montant requis à la mise en œuvre desdits projets passant de 180 millions à 108 millions  à mi-parcours.
A ce jour, 50 millions de dollars sur les 108 millions requis ont été mobilisés pour répondre aux besoins de  centaines de milliers de personnes vulnérables en Mauritanie. Malgré la générosité de certains bailleurs  et leur promptitude à répondre à l’appel de la Mauritanie, les ressources octroyées  ne permettent pas de couvrir l’ensemble des besoins des populations vulnérables. Si les financements ne sont pas fournis en temps opportun et de manière durable, la transition de la phase d’urgence aigue à une phase de relèvement risque d’être compromise.
Le CAP 2013 pour la Mauritanie regroupe 103 projets de 38 Organisations différentes (ONG Nationales et Internationales et Agences des Nations-Unies) et a 3  objectifs principaux :
  1. Soutenir les communautés mauritaniennes vulnérables affectées par les effets de la crise alimentaire et nutritionnelle de 2012 et les communautés hôtes.
  2. Poursuivre et renforcer les activités de protection et d’assistance destinées aux réfugiés maliens.
  3. Réduire la mortalité et la morbidité liée aux épidémies et les effets néfastes liés aux inondations et autres catastrophes naturelles.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Tuareg refugees in Niger herd their livestock to safety

Nomadic Tuareg refugees from Mali head eastwards on their camels during a livestock drive in Niger to escape the fighting that erupted in northern Mali early last.
With the support of ECHO, UNHCR helped refugees to move their animals to allow them to maintain their livelihoods and to continue living as pastoralists and nomads. The Niger government's decision to move the Tuaregs to Intikane was based on security grounds: Agando is located just 10 kilometres from the border in an area that remains unstable.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Crisis leads to unexpected opportunities for displaced children in Mali

By Alex Duval Smith

The conflict in northern Mali may have changed the lives of Fatoumata and Djeneba Touré forever – for the better.

The two girls, ages 5 and 3, are among 527,000 people who have been displaced by the crisis in northern Mali, according to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They have lost businesses, harvests and even their homes. Many are living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, primarily Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. But the majority are from families like the Tourés – enduring cramped conditions while living with relatives or in rented accommodation in central and southern Mali. Most of the people displaced are women and children.

Life was straightforward in their hometown of Niafunké, near Timbuktu. “We lived in a house with a sheep, a goat and a horse – a white horse,” says Fatoumata.

For Malian children displaced by crisis, early learning centres provide
a chance to learn – and to heal.

In April 2012, the family was forced to flee when fighting broke out between the army and separatist rebels. Their house faced a military camp. “Men with guns jumped over the wall [into our yard], and they made a noise, ‘boom, boom’,” says Fatoumata.

Integrated Learning

Set up under a straw roof in the playground of Siribala community pre-school,
this early learning center is one of 18 in Mali and acommodates 60 pupils.
A year later, despite their parents’ financial hardships brought on by displacement, Fatoumata and Djeneba are enjoying life as they rarely did before. Every morning, they put on pink tunics and set off for an early learning centre here in the Ségou region of south-central Mali.

The centre was funded by UNICEF and built by partner NGO Plan Mali. Set up under a straw roof in the playground of Siribala community pre-school, it is one of 18 such centres in Mali and acommodates 60 pupils.

Integration with the host community is a primary objective, so two-thirds of the pupils are displaced children, while the rest are local, including six with physical or mental disabilities. Attendance is free, and everyone receives a mid-morning bowl of porridge – a real benefit in a country where kindergarten is a costly luxury generally reserved for children of urban professional families.
The school's director, Kadiatou Sylla, says it’s clear that hosting the early learning centre has been the right move. “These children are really traumatized,” she says. “Often, if you make a noise near the displaced children, they don't like it. They run away.”

One teacher notes that she has seen displaced children run and hide when they see a plane in the sky.

Addressing needs

Educational games provided by UNICEF are a big attraction for the pupils. There is singing and clapping, and the current focus is on learning the names of animals. To ensure that the children’s full range of needs is addressed, the centre's three teachers – all local mothers – have been trained to identify signs of trauma and to address these issues through playing games.

Children receive a free meal at the early learning centre, an added incentive
for parents to send them there. Teachers are also trained in spotting
signs of malnutrition
Accountant Aliou Sidibé, the grandfather of Fatoumata and Djeneba, hosts the girls at his home in Siribala, and he welcomes the early learning centre.

“It is quite something for these girls from Niafunké,” he says. “Not only are they experiencing education at an early age, which they would not have been able to do in the north, but they are meeting local children, and their trauma is being addressed.”

He notices how his grand daughters have suffered. “I have seen them have nightmares and jump out of bed at night. Their mother also has been affected and is not best-placed to support them, because she has become overprotective,” he says.

Extraordinary opportunity

UNICEF Education Officer Souleymane Traoré has helped set up 10 early learning centres, and he sees them as an enormous success. “We had worked on an estimate of 50 children per centre, but in some of them up to 75 children are attending,” he says. “Not only do they receive a meal, which acts as an incentive for parents to send them there, but we have provided the teachers with training in spotting the signs of malnutrition, so we are closing a gap there.”

He believes that for girls like Djeneba and Fatoumata, attending an early learning centre can be a life-changer.

“In the northern Malian context, where early marriage remains a reality for girls, this chance for them to be awakened to education is an extraordinary opportunity,” Mr. Traoré says. “It could well impact positively on their parents’ decisions for them in the coming years.”

For more go to www.unicef.org
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013


For Malian Refugees, Peace Deal Does Not Guarantee Safe Return

By Alice Thomas, Refugees International

Under a corrugated metal roof at the Goudebou refugee camp in Burkina Faso, eight or nine families huddle in small groups awaiting a food distribution. These are the “new arrivals,” a UN Refugee Agency worker explains – people who recently fled Mali, Burkina’s northern neighbor, and arrived at the camp in recent days.
As I study their faces, I notice the rich ethnic diversity reflected in their eyes, skin color, features, and dress. A group of Songhai women sit silently, their eyes taking in their new surroundings. Next to them, a young Tuareg woman prepares tea for her husband and mother while two small children toddle about. But while their language, religions, and ethnicities may be different, they share a common nationality – Malian.
Malian refugees wait for a food distribution in Goudebou camp, Burkina Faso
Credit: Refugees International
Goudebou sits on the outskirts of the town of Dori in northern Burkina Faso, and at the edge of the Sahelian zone – a semi-arid landscape where tree cover and water are scarce. Opened last year, the camp is now home to 10,000 refugees who have fled violence between the Malian military, Tuareg separatists, and Islamic extremists. A French-led military intervention in January succeeded in retaking the north’s major towns, but led to additional displacement.
I ask the Songhai women when they arrived. “Last night,” the daughter, who is about 18, replies in French. When I ask why they fled, she shifts her eyes about nervously, looking to see who is around her. I ask her again and she looks away, not wanting to answer.
Later, I sit under a large tent talking to a group of Tuareg men who fled Mali last March. We talk about the peace negotiations taking place in Burkina’s capital city that day, which produced a provisional peace deal between the Malian government and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group.
I ask the men if they will return to Mali if an agreement is reached. They scoff at my question, shaking their heads. “We cannot return – it is not safe.” 
One of the men recounts a story. “Two or three months ago, two Tuareg traders who had been with us here in the camp decided to return to Mali to check their herds,” he says. “We heard that they were killed by members of the Malian army.” Another adds, “Several weeks ago, a young man who was recently married decided to go back to check whether it was safe to bring his wife back. We heard he was also killed. He has not come back. His widow is here in the camp.”
A Tuareg man from Mali now living as a refugee in Goudebou camp
Credit: Refugees International

“Don’t you see?” the man explains, “We are guilty by implication. If we return, the Malian army will assume that we fled because we are MNLA. ” Though their individual stories of retribution cannot be confirmed, they fit a troubling pattern of abuses by Malian soldiers – as well as Tuareg rebels – against civilians documented by human rights groups. The very act of return makes these refugees suspect, so creating a safe environment for return could be long and difficult; perceptions will have to change and trust will have to be rebuilt.
The next day, I discuss the refugees’ fate with the head of an aid group which has assisted displaced Malians since the crisis began. “There is a great deal of distrust now,” he said, “not just between the Malian army and the Tuaregs, but among local populations – those who fled and those who stayed.” Civilians who sympathized with, or merely submitted to, Islamist groups could also be viewed as collaborators, leading neighbor to turn against neighbor. We discuss whether the implications of this distrust have been fully recognized by the international community as it seeks to move forward with a peace deal and elections in late July.
The recent agreement between Mali and the MNLA is certainly a welcome step towards ending the Mali conflict. But the ethnically- and religiously-charged violence that exploded last year not only left deep wounds but also sowed suspicion and distrust, meaning the road to lasting peace in Mali will be a long one.
Abuses by all sides must be fully investigated and prosecuted. The UN peacekeeping mission that is now being deployed must also ensure that civilians are protected and peace enforced. But this must be accompanied by a robust reconciliation process led by civil society that has the full support of the Malian government and the international community.
Alice Thomas is the Climate Displacement Program Manager at Refugees International, a non-profit organization that works to end displacement and stateless crises worldwide and accepts no government or UN funding.

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