Saturday, February 1, 2014

Aid agencies warn of another food crisis in northern Mali

Aid agencies say people in northern Mali's regions of Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Mopti are food insecure (Photo Credit: Oxfam)

Eleven humanitarian agencies have on Friday warned that “Northern Mali is set to face another serious food crisis unless funds are rapidly mobilized.” 

The warning, issued by ACF, ACTED, AVSF, CARE International, DRC, Handicap International, IRC, Plan International, Oxfam, Solidarités International and World Vision, came 72 hours ahead of “the Sahel Appeal” to be launched by the United Nations in Rome on February 3, 2014.

A rapid response would mean greater technical and financial resources are needed to respond to the onset of this food crisis, according to the charitable organisations.

Bleak outlook 

Last year, the UN’s emergency appeal for Mali was only 55 per cent funded. On January 31, the agencies said “the outlook for 2014 is already proving bleak” with a drastic cut in contributions from certain emergency and development donors.

More than 800, 000 people need immediate food assistance, and across the country three million people are at risk of not finding enough to eat, a December 2013 Harmonized Framework has fined. 

More than half of these people are living in northern Mali, according to results of the Framework, a consensual analysis tool developed by Permanent Inter-State Committee to Fight against Drought in the Sahel (CILSS).

The aid agencies said: “The combined effects of armed conflict and the lasting impacts of the 2012 food crisis in the north of Mali, combined with poor recent harvests, have had a severe effect on populations, limiting access to food and livelihoods for the most vulnerable.” 

Rising food insecurity 

A July 2013 World Food Programme (WFP) report indicated that 75.2 per cent of households were food insecure in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Mopti. But aid agencies have said “this number has continued to rise in recent months.”

Franck Vannetelle, Director of Action Against Hunger in Mali, has said the number of vulnerable people facing a new food crisis is likely to double if the needs identified are not met quickly. Vannetelle observed that the ‘lean’ season, when food stocks run low before the next harvest, will start early this year. 

“The late arrival of rains, the low availability of cereal stocks in households, poor harvests in some parts of the country and the failure of markets to function properly mean that people have not been able to recover since last year’s lean season,” Vannetelle said. 

“Herders have not been able to use traditional pastures and water points critical for the survival of their animals because of insecurity.”

Hélène Quéau, Head of Mission for Solidarités International in Mali, says the volatile security situation increases pressure on infrastructure and basic services in more secure areas, and disrupts the economic activities essential for people to recover, making them vulnerable to the slightest shock. 

Quéau predicts that “the difficult situation is likely to see more people migrating and getting in to debt in order to cope.”

Vision and commitment 

An Emergency Coordinator at CARE International Mali, Osseni Amadou, has suggested that food and nutrition support in the north of Mali should be stepped up in anticipation of the early hunger gap in 2014. 

“It should be done in parallel with interventions to support capacities of population to be resilient and also anticipate and prepare to recurrent crisis,” Amadou explains.

But Mohamed Coulibaly, Oxfam Director in Mali, has warned that “the response to immediate humanitarian needs must be combined with a vision and commitment to implementing sustainable solutions.”

“We have to invest in agricultural and pastoral policies that place family farming at their heart, as well as introduce social protection policies and food reserves that make people less vulnerable to shocks,” Coulibaly suggest.

In February 2012, aid agencies sounded the alarm on an imminent food and hunger crisis that was apparent in the Sahel region of Africa following a total crop failure blamed on erratic rainfall. 

At the time, they said “international donors are starving Africa’s Sahel region of money” needed to avert a disaster

Written by Modou S. Joof

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