“Many people we’ve met in these semi-desert rural areas are barely able to survive,” said Jean-Nicolas Marti, the head of the ICRC regional delegation for Mali and Niger. “All economic activities are at a standstill. Tens of thousands of people – displaced and residents alike – lack food, essential household and hygiene items, and access to health care.”
Over the last few weeks, the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross have managed to reach remote areas in the Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao regions for the first time since the end of March.
“The combination of the food crisis and the armed conflict is having alarming consequences for these people,” said Mr Marti. “Most heads of household have lost their sources of income. In order to cope, many families are forced to eat less every day, and to eat less hearty foods.”
Looting by Arab invaders that occurred after the fighting in the main cities of northern Mali at the beginning of April also affected harvest stocks intended for consumption, sale and the creation of seed stocks. The situation, which is particularly serious in the Timbuktu area, is further weakening small farmers at this start of the 2012-2013 crop year.
In addition to the drought, seed-eating birds, locusts and the inadequate floodwaters from the Niger River are going to have a devastating effect on agricultural production.
In this region where humanitarian organizations are scarce, the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross are preparing to provide food aid and other essentials for the neediest people in all three parts of northern Mali.
Healthcare centers in serious difficulty, schools closed
The health and education sectors in northern Mali have also been disrupted by the consequences of the conflict.
Most community health-care centres outside cities are no longer functioning, either because they were looted by Arabs or because they were abandoned by their skilled workers. Health-care centres that are still up and running are unable to obtain medicines, since the Gao regional pharmaceutical warehouse is no longer operating.
In addition to the aid it is providing for the hospital in Gao and the referral health-care centre in Assongo, the ICRC is going to resume its support for nine community health-care centres, five of which are situated between Timbuktu and Gao, and the other four between Gao and Kidal.
People are also having to cope with the closing of most schools in the north of the country. Many schoolhouses were wrecked and the teachers had to leave. A major risk is that the children could be enlisted in armed groups.
Difficult humanitarian situation for refugees in Burkina Faso and in Mauritania
More than 60,000 Malian refugees are now estimated to be in the north of Burkina Faso. The influx has only worsened the already difficult conditions in the country’s Sahel, especially since the refugees arrived with their livestock (their main source of income). The available pastureland does not provide enough food for the approximately 150,000 head of livestock. In addition, the excessive animal presence causes environmental degradation and could result in tensions between the host population and refugees.
In south-eastern Mauritania, there are several tens of thousands of Malian refugees in a dry area that is difficult to reach who also require aid. They lack household essentials and milk. They also have their livestock – often in frail health – with them.
In both countries, and in Niger, the ICRC is closely monitoring in coordination with other humanitarian organizations the refugees’ situation as it develops.
The ICRC plans to distribute blankets, hygiene items, kitchen sets and, possibly, milk powder to most of the refugees in Mauritania. In cooperation with the BurkinabÃ Red Cross Society, it supplied similar items to 18,000 refugees in the Oudalan province of Burkina Faso in March and April. Finally, the ICRC is considering the possibility of treating the livestock of the refugees in both Burkina Faso and Mauritania.