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A grim situation for children in northern Mali

According to humanitarian workers in northern Mali, many parents are cutting back on their own meals in order to feed their children.

The international charity, Oxfam, this week released findings from a survey carried out in northern Mali. The results showed that due to a severe shortage of food in the region, families were buying much smaller quantities of supplies. The price of some basic foods had increased by as much as 70% and households were also being hit by higher fuel prices.

Humanitarian organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Programme have begun to scale up their operations in response to the situation, as reported last month. But for the moment, a spokesperson for Oxfam called the current situation in northern Mali “alarming”.

The UN’s child agency, UNICEF, is also concerned about the growing number of children being killed or harmed by unexploded munitions in the region. Since April last year, 38 children have died after being injured by left-over explosives. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a UNICEF spokesperson said that the organisation was “advising people not to return to their homes” until munitions could be cleared and areas were declared safe. However, reports suggest that hundreds of Malians are returning every week as roads to the north reopen.

Around 430,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the conflict in the north. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 260,000 people fled to southern regions inside Mali, while 170,000 Malians went to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

This displacement has meant the education of thousands of refugee children has been affected. This year, the UN made an appeal for 18 million dollars to help set up emergency schools. However, according to a recent article in IRIN, no money has so far been pledged. Therefore UNICEF has been able to find just 3 million dollars to support learning activities for displaced children.

The education situation in northern Mali also remains difficult, since dozens of schools were closed or destroyed, though a few have reopened. There is clear evidence from studies that returning back to school helps children recover mentally after a crisis. But unless more funding can be found to set up emergency schools for refugees and to rebuild facilities inside Mali, it may take some time before many youngsters have a classroom to go to.

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