Article: Sanj Srikanthan and Clara Thompson Photography: Sanj Srikanthan/IRC
As hundreds of thousands of people in Mali are still suffering from fighting and a worsening food crisis, the IRC is mobilising its emergency team to provide water in battle-scarred cities in the north of the country and treatment for malnourished children in the drought-hit south.
Months of fighting in the north between Tuareg rebels and Mali’s army have forced more than 100,000 people into neighbouring countries already struggling to cope with the drought sweeping across the Sahel, while an estimated 95,000 are displaced within Mali. With the government of Mali focused on internal power dynamics and unable to serve more than half of the country, aid resources are badly needed.
The IRC emergency team has just completed an assessment of humanitarian needs in both rebel-controlled areas in the north, and in areas afflicted by severe drought in the government-controlled south. In the north, the primary need is water and sanitation. When the rebels began their offensive against the government in March, many fled the area, but in the Gao province near the Niger border, a population of around 30,000 are relying on just seven water points, four of which are shared with livestock. Until recently these facilities were kept running by local NGOs with support from the government, but the recent conflict has greatly disrupted local services. Water-borne diseases are rife and health facilities limited.
Amidst the challenges of a tense security situation, the IRC is looking at repairing water points and distributing water purification kits, should they be needed. IRC staff is working with a local NGO that has been given permission to work in the area, and will concentrate on strengthening their capacity, guided by the needs local groups have already identified.
Meanwhile, the south of the country is grappling with a different crisis. Months of poor rainfall have plunged the arid region into drought and malnutrition rates are soaring. In Kati, a town lying just 15km from the presidential palace in the capital Bamako, the situation is dire. Over 8,000 new cases of malnutrition have been have been diagnosed and local health services are completely overwhelmed. IRC’s emergency nutrition advisor, Jeanette Bailey, describes how staff at a local hospital work without lunch breaks as they struggle to cope with the ever-growing line of people waiting to be seen. “I sat talking with one of the doctors for just 15 minutes, and another 30 people arrived to see him,” Jeanette said.
Having visited a number of local health centres, the IRC team have identified the need for an integrated response combing nutrition, child protection and water and sanitation. Child protection needs are especially acute in urban areas and lack of access to clean drinking water at the clinics compounds the difficulties doctors are experiencing in treating malnourished children.
In spite of the immense challenges local NGOs are facing, the IRC team have been impressed with their commitment and expertise. While international NGOs have come and gone over the years, local organisations have remained, providing some of the only consistent services to vulnerable populations. While their limited resources have been stretched to the limit by the latest humanitarian crisis, they have a great deal of experience to share and will be an invaluable partner to IRC as the team launches our emergency response.