DAKAR (AlertNet) – Non-governmental organisations need to urgently redeploy their teams across Mali, as the country struggles with a mix of conflict, political instability, displacements and hunger, the head of Medecins du Monde (MDM) in Mali has said.
The most worrying case is that of more than 100,000 people uprooted by conflict in the north, who need food, water and shelter but are at risk of not having such help due to concerns over insecurity, Olivier Vandecasteele of the international medical charity said.
The World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which could provide such relief, reduced their operations in the north after being ransacked by armed groups at the end of last month. Other aid agencies including Oxfam were also ransacked.
For now, only basic healthcare assistance is being provided to people by a handful of medical charities, including MDM, that have been operating in the north.
“But there is clearly need to restart food security operations, water and sanitation, and other kinds of humanitarian assistance. Otherwise we are on the verge of a really, really big crisis,” Vandecasteele warned.
“The many displacements due to the conflict in the north, as well as the political instability due to the military coup in the capital, have turned a difficult situation into a potential disaster,” he added.
Mali, which is among countries in West Africa threatened by a food emergency due to drought, began to slide further into crisis in mid-January when Tuareg-led rebels launched a bid to carve out an independent state in the north of the country.
Battlefield humiliations of the Malian army triggered a March 22 coup by junior level soldiers, who toppled the government of President Amadou Toumani Toure in the capital Bamako in protest at what they saw as a tame approach on his part to tackle the rebellion.
After international pressure including the closure of borders by Mali’s neighbours, the junta has promised to return powers to civilians this week. But amid the disarray that followed the coup, Tuareg-led rebels and local Islamists seized three northern regions.
The confusion that followed the capture of the key northern towns of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao led to attacks on hospitals, hotels, private property, government offices, compounds of aid groups and the pillaging of supplies stored locally by aid agencies preparing to tackle the food emergency in the drought-prone regions of the country.
More than 3.5 million people are at risk of going hungry in Mali due to drought, with the majority in the north and central regions of the country, according to the U.N.
“Now that most food aid stocks have been looted it (the food crisis) is going to hit even harder ” Vandecasteele said.
Although accessing populations vulnerable to food shortages in the south of the country is not a problem for aid groups, political instability in Bamako has led to delays in distribution of promised food aid to these communities, Vandecasteele said.
“It is a really difficult situation,” he added. “It is really urgent that the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) that are in Mali and that have operational capacity in Bamako quickly redeploy their teams (across the country),” said Vandecasteele.
MDM, which was also hit by the attacks in the north is restarting work in the northern towns of Kidal and Gao where there is a high need for basic healthcare, he said.