War, Drought and Hunger in Mali

Ongoing turmoil in Mali, a country in West Africa, has recently intensified and come into the global spotlight. During a previous crisis, the international community led by France and the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) has backed up the Malian Government during the crisis.

Many families left their homes. (Photo: Marie-Even Bertrand)
The crisis, caused by the rebels associated with Al-Qaeda, has worsened the fragile humanitarian situation of the regions of West Africa and Sahel, the UN reports. In January 2012, ethnic Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants entered the northern area and took the control of some region's main towns.

Mali, located in the heart of the Sahel, is a vast landlocked country of about 15 million of people. The Sahel is a region known to be vulnerable to drought and desertification. Even though French is the official language, the country counts thirteen local languages. Prior to the recent military coups, Mali has enjoyed a steady economic and social progress paired with a democratic governance. The country was in the final stages of the preparation for democratic elections. 

According to CNN, radical Muslims, in an attempt to instruct the stricter form of Islamic law or sharia, have generated fears by compiling a list of unmarried mothers. These groups claim that Islamic law condemns relationship outside marriage. There are reports of rebels physically harming civilians who fail to follow the law through executions, amputations and stoning.

As the members of the group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to use northern Mali as safe haven for their operations, Mali faces challenges including food shortages, populations displacement, and water scarcity.

According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), more than 200,000 Malians have fled from their homes and the same number have left the country altogether to become refugees in neighboring West African states such as Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso.

As of May 2012, a World Bank online article stated that more than 17 million people are facing possible starvation in West Africa's Sahel region, the zone skirting the southern portion of the Sahara Desert. the World Bank report explained that the food crisis is the result of a combination of drought caused by poor rainfall in 2011, too little food, high grain prices, environmental damage and large numbers of internal refugees.

A map of Mali in Africa
Responding to the emergency food needs, the WFP has reached out to the Malian families in need. The food sent included cereals, cooking oil, and Plumpy'sup, a ready-to-use nutrition product aimed at children under the age of five. The organization has partnered with other NGOs to boost nutrition among mothers and children.

At a press briefing held in Geneva, the UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said that the countries of the Sahel region have face severe drought conditions for years and they are among the poorest in the world. Fleming added that UNHCR only received 60 percent of the US $ 123.7 million requested for its Mali crisis operations that will take care of food, shelter, clean water, sanitation, health and education. UNHCR and WFP stated on their respective websites that children represent the most vulnerable group.

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