GENEVA — The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is appealing for $45 million to meet the emergency needs of women and children affected by the Malian crisis for the next three months. UNICEF says it has received little money so far to help a quarter-million people displaced inside Mali, as well as an estimated 170,000 refugees who have fled to neighboring Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
The humanitarian crisis in Mali is huge. Yet, despite the magnitude of the needs, the U.N. Children’s Fund reports it has received less than $1 million to help the hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees.
UNICEF warns it will not be able to continue life-saving interventions unless international donors respond quickly to its appeal.
The agency says months of conflict and continuing political instability in Mali are severely aggravating a situation that was already fragile because of a regional food crisis. It says the impact on children is particularly acute.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says an estimated 660,000 children in Mali will suffer from acute malnutrition this year, including 210,000 who will require life-saving treatment.
She says the risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera and malaria is very high. She says it is urgent to implement preventive measures to head off disease outbreaks.
“We have been providing Aquatabs so that people can treat water in their households because water systems have essentially... are not operating the way that they should be. This risk remains a very potent risk especially because of the large numbers of displaced people moving about… With large numbers of displaced people, you have more and more people taking water from unprotected water sources. And, this, of course, places children particularly at high risk.”
Given the unstable conditions in the region, Mercado says part of the appeal money will go toward improving security for humanitarian staff and protection for children. She says children in northern Mali are particularly vulnerable to a host of risks.
“Many of the schools in the north have been closed, putting children at much greater risk of recruitment," she said. "There have been many, many cases of allegations of sexual violence against children. Recruitment is a risk also in the refugee camps that are hosting displaced populations and all…. of our programs in these camps have their eye very much on that risk. Children are always more vulnerable in these refugee camps. They are much more vulnerable to sexual abuse, much more vulnerable to violence. They are much more vulnerable to all sorts of risk.”
Mali was plunged into crisis last year when soldiers overthrew the president, allowing Islamist militants to seize control of the north. A French-led offensive last month drove the militants into remote desert hideouts but Mali's political situation remains shaky and uncertain.
UNICEF says a tremendous amount of work is necessary to meet the basic needs of the Malian people, both in the north and the south. It says its immediate focus will be on battling the food and nutrition crisis, which has affected the country since 2011.
It notes the situation in the north is particularly critical as people there have had only restricted access to markets, services and humanitarian aid for many months.