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Reaching out to families in Mali

Photographs courtesy Jens Honoré
Photographs courtesy Jens Honoré

The current conflict in Mali has resulted in a humanitarian crisis. SOS Children have stepped up our work in the country to help 1,000 families displaced by the violence, ensuring that they have access to food, nutritional support and sanitation items. We are also supporting vulnerable children who have lost their parents in the chaos and help to reunite families.

The struggle between government troops and Islamic militants in Mali worsened throughout January 2013 when armed groups in control of the north began to move their troops south into central Mali. On 11 January, French forces intervened to advance and recapture the north of the country. Whilst they have now taken control of most of the main towns, violent clashes in the remote Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains continue. The French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that a quick withdrawal of troops is unlikely as battles are ongoing.

Humanitarian crisis

Even before military operations intensified in January, over two million people in Mali were threatened by food insecurity. With the added pressure of this conflict, humanitarian agencies estimate that 660,000 children are at risk of severe malnutrition.

Thousands of families in northern Mali have fled their homes and travelled further south. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a total of 227,000 people are now internally displaced in Mali and approximately 4.3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Host families are overwhelmed

Many families from the north are staying with temporary host families in central Mali, but these families are struggling to provide for the additional people in their households. The price of basic staple foods has risen dramatically and markets are often closed in the instability. Alpha Baba Traore, Programme Director for SOS Children, says: “People are really stretched and many are living day to day, not knowing where tomorrow's meals are coming from.”

In Mopti alone, it is estimated that more than 4,000 displaced families from the north are currently living in deplorable conditions, lacking food, water and basic sanitation. As a result, humanitarian agencies report increased levels of malnutrition, particularly in children under five as well as pregnant and nursing mothers

“It's hard for me to make ends meet”

Gnorguel Gambi, 70, lives in Sakoura in central Mali. A small-scale farmer, he was already providing for his ten children before friends and family started arriving when the conflict intensified in 2012. Their journeys were often treacherous. One young man, 24-year-old Alai, walked for a month to Gnorguel’s house, sleeping in patches of forest and hiding from groups of rebels.

There are now 19 displaced people staying with Gnorguel and his wife. At night, they sleep on shared mats in a spare room, or under the stars in the large courtyard. Gnorguel says: “I'm glad the displaced people are here and that they are safe, but sometimes it's hard for me to make ends meet. I am managing to provide them with meals and give them a safe place to sleep, but last year's harvest was bad and I don't have many resources.”

In the past year, Gnorguel received vital supplies from SOS Children, including millet, rice, milk and seeds to grow his own food. He says: “I probably wouldn't have been in a position to help these young people out if I hadn't received help.”

Helping families in need

Mali ER Feb 13

We have increased our charity work in Mali to meet the needs of 1,000 displaced and host families in and around Mopti. With over 25 years experience in the country, we are well-placed to help those in need. We will:
  • Provide enough healthy and nutritious food for internally displaced families and host families at risk.
  • Boost nutrition levels in children aged 0 – 5, nursing mothers and pregnant women. We will provide screening for malnourished children, refer severe cases to the nearest health centres and strengthen the capacity of parents to prepare healthy food.
  • Ensure the protection of children at risk, especially those separated from their families as a result of the conflict. We will provide psychological and social support; creating protected areas especially for traumatised and abandoned children; and start the process of reuniting them with their families if they have been separated.
  • Improve hygiene and sanitary conditions for displaced families. We will provide access to drinking water, and boost awareness of good hygiene and sanitation practice specifically required by women and young girls.

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