GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency says its humanitarian operation for hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by conflict in Mali is threatened because of lack of funds. The UNHCR says it has received only 13 percent of the $154 million it needs to help more than 300,000 refugees and internally displaced people.
The U.N. refugee agency reports people continue to flee instability and fighting in Mali. Over the past four weeks alone, it says some 20,000 Malians have crossed into Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, and more are coming. For example, it notes Mauritania alone is receiving more than 460 Malian refugees every day.
UNHCR spokesman Andrei Mahecic says the number of refugees and internally displaced people that will need help this year is expected to rise to about 440,000. He warns the UNHCR will not be able to assist these desperate people if donors do not come up with more money.
"The situation in Mali has been overlooked. This is now an emergency, which is six months old and yet we have received only 13 percent of the funds for this. So, we believe it is of paramount importance to keep this issue on the agenda," Mahecic said.
He added that Mali has become a forgotten crisis in, what he calls, this one-issue world. The one-issue in this case is Syria.
The Mali crisis began in mid-January following the outbreak of an armed rebellion by ethnic Tuareg fighters. Since April, the separatist movement has taken control of northern Mali with the help of Islamist militant groups.
Mahecic says this serious situation is being compounded by long-term drought. He says water supplies in the arid Sahel region are particularly low and most refugees are not receiving even the emergency minimum of 10 liters per person per day. He notes this is half the amount of water a person needs on a daily basis.
"Because the sanitation is not also up to the standards that we would like to see, there is a serious risk of diseases being spread. Things could turn worse with the seasonal rains because you will have possible contamination. So, it is really a serious situation for us and the 13 percent of the funding does not really cut it," Mahecic said.
The Mali operation is a perfect example of how expensive it is to assist people living in an arid, remote part of the world. The UNHCR says it and other agencies are trucking water to remote refugee sites. This is costly because of high fuel prices and long distances over bad roads.
Wells are being dug, but some of these dry up within three months because of years of drought in the Sahel. Mahecic says a solution to this problem is to dig more boreholes. But, this requires buying heavy and expensive equipment, which the UNHCR says it cannot afford.