As conflict in Mali escalates so too does hunger and displacement in the African nation. The UN Refugee Agency warns “that stepped up aid was vital to prevent a worsening of the humanitarian situation.”
Mali’s government, backed by French forces, has launched an offensive against rebels associated with Al-Qaeda in the northern part of the country. Victoria Nuland of the U.S. State Department says, “it’s absolutely critical to stop the offensive of terrorist groups toward southern Mali, to prevent the collapse of the government.”
There are reports of rebel forces carrying out executions and amputations of civilians. In the conflict-affected areas food and fuel are in short supply.
Over 230,000 have been displaced inside Mali while over 140,000 people have fled to other countries in the Sahel region of Africa. Mali and its neighbors have suffered recently from drought so these are countries already in a weakened state. Critical to war and drought relief is feeding programs, especially those for children who are the most vulnerable to malnutrition.
The UN World Food Programme is running an emergency operation which provides “food assistance, nutritional support and emergency school feeding to 564,000 vulnerable people affected by the crisis.” This includes Plumpy’Sup, a peanut paste used to prevent deadly malnutrition in children under the age of five.
Porters wade waist-high in the waters of the River Niger, loading local boats, or pinasses to ship food supplies of Plumpy’Sup to the legendary city of Timbuktu in northern Mali. (WFP/Jane Howard)
WFP is in desperate need of funding close to US $ 200 million dollars for both its operation inside Mali as well as relief for refugees who have fled to other countries.
The McGovern-Dole program, named after former Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole, is also funding school meals for children in Mali. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) received the funding and provides the food.
Helen Blakesley of CRS says the program is feeding more than 75,000 children at primary and secondary schools in the Mopti and Koulikoro areas.
Kristina Brayman, who runs the CRS school feeding in Mali says, “It means children receive a hot, nutritious meal each day, using US donated food complemented by both local foods from school gardens and purchased through funds collected by the community. Without that food, many students would not eat a square meal at all. It motivates parents to send their children to school, especially girls, and means the children are able to grow, develop, and maximize their learning potential. It really is essential.”
The McGovern-Dole program will have its future funding decided in the US Congress soon. The program in Mali is an example of what a difference this humanitarian aid can make.
As the conflict and hunger persist in Mali the international community will need to support aid agencies.
Food from the US and other donors will be crucial for Mali during the conflict and reconstruction. (Helen Blakesley/CRS)