Mali Conflict: Hunger Haunts Millions
29 January, 2013
Along with conflict hunger is haunting the people in Mali. Escalation of the conflict is exacerbating food insecurity and malnutrition in the adjoining Sahel region. Millions face starvation.
Many northern Malians are likely to face severe food shortages in the coming days if markets remain blocked by border and road closures, and humanitarian access remains limited, warn food security agencies .
The border with Algeria is officially closed as a result of the conflict that broke out on January 11, 2013 between Malian and French forces and Islamist groups that were occupying the north.
As a result, the amount of food coming through has halved, according to the UN World Food Programme's (WFP) Vulnerability and Analysis Mapping Unit.
Algeria supplies almost all markets in Kidal Region in northeastern Mali with rice, couscous, oil and milk - the staple diet of northern Malians. While some trucks can get through, traders are reluctant to travel because of strict border controls and fear of further aerial bombardment, says the WFP analysis.
Mopti markets also supply northern regions with significant imported rice stocks and millet - availability of which has dropped by 40 percent in Kidal since January 2012. They also cost 120 percent more than the five-year average, according to WFP.
"Should the situation last, food security is foreseen to worsen severely in the coming days," says WFP.
Some Gao (central-northeastern Mali) and Kidal residents tried to flee across the Algerian border but were forced to return.
Algerian trucks are currently in Kidal selling off their remaining food stocks.
Kidal residents rely on weekly markets to buy and sell the bulk of their food, but these remain closed or have been severely disrupted. Many traders in Kidal and Gao regions closed their shops for fear of looting, say residents and aid agencies.
Aid agencies are worried the blockages could aggravate already unusually high food insecurity levels in the north: of the 1.8 million people in the north, 585,000 are food insecure and more than 1.2 million are at risk of food insecurity, according to a WFP food security assessment.
Local NGO Sol estimated families in Kidal have on average 10 days' worth of cereal supplies.
The recent escalation of fighting and the subsequent displacement of people within Mali and to neighboring countries is exacerbating the Sahel's chronic food crisis and contributing to ever-rising levels of malnutrition, warns Yacouba Kone, Christian Aid's Mali country director .
'The current food crisis has already brought suffering to more than 18 million people across the region, and the more people are forced to flee the mounting military offensive in the north, the more market gardens are being abandoned and the less vegetables are being produced for child nutrition,' he says.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently announced that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is now over 200,000, with the renewed conflict in the north coming at a time when the agency estimates that 4.2 million Malians will need emergency humanitarian assistance this year.
Malian refugees have also sought refuge in neighboring countries, with 1,829 new arrivals in Burkina Faso and 487 in Niger as of 21st January this year, according to OCHA. Initial UNHCR assessments in Burkina Faso indicate insufficient food rations and the need to improve maternal health services.
The pressing issue of growing regional food insecurity, there is also a crucial need to avoid confusion between Islamists on the one hand, and Touareg and Arab communities on the other, says Kone.
'Like in previous northern Malian conflicts, many civilians of Arab and Touareg origin have been targeted by the military simply because of their ethnicity and unsubstantiated rumors that they are protecting the rebels,' he explains.
'We are now hearing reports that some Touareg and Arab community members are being attacked by Malian troops who may be seeking revenge for the atrocities committed by the rebels on January 2012 when many Malian soldiers were executed in Aguelhok, a military base in the Kidal Region of eastern Mali."
'All parties involved in the conflict must take the necessary measures to prevent harm to civilians, particularly women and children, as well as respecting the right of people in need to humanitarian aid and allowing rapid, safe and unimpeded passage to any agencies providing it.'
'Any efforts to reduce long-term suffering in Mali must address the region's entrenched poverty and vulnerability to chronic food crises, by building resilient livelihoods,' Kone adds.
 allAfrica, Jan 23, 2013, “Mali: Food Insecurity the Next Crisis for Northern Mali”
 allAfrica, Jan 23, 2013, “Mali: Escalating Violence in Northern Mali Is Fuelling Hunger in the Sahel”,
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