As the Malian conflict enters its third week, those whose lives have been shattered by the combats are still struggling to cope with the situation. In Ségou, things are tough for many of the internally displaced for whom survival has become a daily challenge.
By Edwige Depagne-Sorgho
Emergency Communications & Media Specialist
In a big compound, in the outskirts of Ségou, two shadows are discernible in the shade of a mango tree, curled up, almost invisible. Aissata Maiga is laying down on the sandy ground with her little boy Bouba by her side.
She is trying to find a comfortable position but with no mattress, mat or even a cloth underneath her frail body, this seems quite an impossible thing to achieve.
She looks weak and pale. Bouba does not look better either.
“She has been unwell for quite some time and the journey from Diabaly to Ségou has made her even worse,” husband Ali Cissé, a tall middle aged man, said in a broken voice.
Aissata and her family of five arrived in Ségou in mid-January, fleeing the unrest in their hometown of Diabaly. It was a 10-hour drive to Ségou which is located 160 kilometers to the south.
Half of the journey was on an old shabby donkey cart.
“As the cart went along the bumpy road, I could see that Assaita’s condition was deteriorating. I was so worried she wouldn’t make it,” Ali said.
She got a quick health check from Dr Unni Krishnan, a medical doctor who is also Head of Disaster and Preparedness Response of the children’s organization Plan International.
He said Aissata and Bouba were severely dehydrated and underweight.
Ali is even more worried about his wife and child because he has no money left to provide food of medical assistance for them.
“I sold everything … my sheep, my television.”
After arriving in Ségou penniless, his family had to split up. He, Aissata and Bouba were taken in by a cousin while the other three children were sent to live with another relative.
Internally displaced people (IDP) continue to travel from the war-torn cities and villages in northern Mali to Ségou.
“The influx has slowed down a bit. A tiny minority of the IDPs even decided to go back home,” said Sadou Maiga, head of Coren, a north Malian NGO operating in Ségou.
For him the lack of queues at the coach stations is a mixed blessing.
“Life is not easy for the IDPs here. Many are really struggling to make ends meet. On my home visits I am always confronted with tough situations. I think many outside of Ségou don’t understand the crisis that is developing here because life in Ségou appears normal and the coach stations seem pretty quiet.”
Dr Krishnan who has worked emergencies in more than 60 countries said that the IDP situation in Mali is very different because there are no IDP camps and this will make aid delivery very challenging because the 31,000 IDPs are scattered in thousands of homes across many towns and villages in this south central province.
With security clearance now obtained, Plan International is preparing to deliver much needed aid to 50,000 people - both IDPs and their host families - in seven towns in Ségou (including Diabaly).
Ali, Aissata and Bouba were taken in by Abah Cissé. Even though feeding everyone in his household is a daily worry he willingly opened his home to Ali, his cousin, and his family. He’s given them a room in one of the two grey brick houses in his compound. They are not his first visitors. Since the beginning of the crisis he has welcomed at least 20 members of his extended family fleeing the unrest.
“I am always happy to welcome family members in my house and provide for them, especially in such circumstances. That is what families and friends are for,” he said.
Over the past months however, this local butcher has been feeling the pinch.
“My household spending has more than doubled to 5,000 CFA (US$10) per day. I had to take several loans from friends to feed everybody. I am crippled with debts and I don’t know how and when I’ll be able to pay them back,” Cissé said.
He and his wife were forced to cut down drastically on the number of meals they eat daily.
“Sometimes the children complain that they are hungry but there is often nothing my wife and I can do about it.”
Far from being bitter about the situation, Abah thinks something good will come out of his actions and that he is providing a good example for his six children, aged 18 to 2, to become better people.
“Family matters,” he often tells them, “you never have too little to share with others.”