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Aid Groups Warn of Potential Food Crisis in Northern Mali

  • Jennifer Lazuta

A girl gathers rice spilled from a humanitarian food convoy that arrived from the Malian capital Bamako in the northeastern city of Gao, Jun. 14, 2012.

A girl gathers rice spilled from a humanitarian food convoy that arrived from the Malian capital Bamako in the northeastern city of Gao, Jun. 14, 2012.

International aid agencies warned Thursday that food insecurity in northern Mali will reach “emergency levels” within two months if more attention is not given to humanitarian issues. They are now calling for increased food aid distribution and for the full disbursement of requested emergency aid funds.

A joint analysis by four international aid agencies found Thursday that up to two-thirds of the people in Mali’s northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal do not have enough to eat.

"Right now the north of Mali is in a crisis situation, said Philippe Conraud is the Mali country director for Oxfam. "It’s a level three out of four. The fourth one, emergency, might be reached over the next couple of months if nothing is done. So what that means in terms of [food] reserves, and in terms of us, is that, in that situation, we need to provide free food distribution, massive food distribution."

Conraud said in some cases, the food just is not there for sale. In other cases, the food is there but locals do not have the money to buy it.

Many shopkeepers and traders fled the region due to fighting and ethnic tensions. And Algeria closed its border with Mali in January when the French-led military intervention began. That has made it difficult for supplies to reach the markets.

Banks were looted in northern Mali in April 2012 when the region fell to rebel groups, and they have not reopened.

Oxfam reports that the price of food staples like pasta, rice and sugar doubled in some areas between October 2012 and February 2013.

Aid group Action Against Hunger says that daily wages in northern Mali fell from $2.50 in 2012 to between $1.50 and $2 in the beginning of 2013.

The head of Solidarity International in Mali, Franck Abeille, said this has left many people in a very precarious situation.

"We are not at the point where people have nothing to eat at all, but it’s quite hard for them," he said. "They are reducing the number of meals per day. They are all selling all their livestock. Some don’t have the capacity to find food. Some have to contract more credit and more credit, which could be very hard for them to later refund."

Abeille said that to keep the situation from getting worse, humanitarian aid must not only be brought in as quickly as possible, but it must be adapted to each community’s needs.

"[For example], if you are in some places where the markets are not supplied at all and you have no food available, then you have to do some food distribution. If you are in some places where the markets are supplied, then you can do some cash allowance programs. So solutions exist on the humanitarian side," said Abeille.

He said that the problem now is funding.

As of April 19, only 26 percent of the U.N.’s requested emergency aid money had been received.

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