Mali, Sahel countries face renewed food crisis

By Chris Huber
Feb 10, 2014
Courtesy of World Vision
Men from Touna village stand in a field of failed crops near Segou, central Mali, in November. About 3.3 million Malians risk running out of food in the coming months, due to failed crops or below-average harvests.

More than 3 million Malians may run out of food in the coming months as a result of below-average harvests and the lingering effects of conflict, aid agencies warn. 
   
About 800,000 people need food assistance now, say World Vision and other agencies helping communities deal with lack of food supplies there. More than 400,000 Malian children are acutely malnourished, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Mali says.

“The situation is Mali is deteriorating, and a crisis could be looming,” says Thomas Okollah, humanitarian and emergency affairs manager for World Vision in Mali. “The harvest was very poor and, in some regions, no harvest was realized.”

Malians’ struggle is part of a larger food crisis re-emerging in countries throughout the Sahel region, including Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. The U.N. estimates a total of 4.9 million children under 5 and pregnant mothers across the Sahel region are severely undernourished.

Conflict, inconsistent harvests, high food prices, and political instability have hindered millions of families’ ability to get back on their feet since the 2012 drought. And droughts are recurring more frequently — this is the third drought to hit the Sahel in less than 10 years.

The U.N. expects more than 20 million people will lack adequate food supplies through 2016.  It recently asked for $2 billion to cover the cost of helping communities in the Sahel.

“The task is huge, considering the environmental situation in the Sahel,” Thomas says. “It is also difficult but not insurmountable.”

Aid helps as stability returns

In Mali, stability has largely returned since French, U.N., and government forces quelled a months-long rebel uprising in the north. The people freely elected a new president and parliament in late 2013 to replace a caretaker government installed after a coup in March 2012. 

Still, as many as 256,000 Malians are displaced within the country due to the conflict. Another 168,000 refugees remain in neighboring countries of Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger. 

Communities in central Mali anticipate an up-to-six-month “hungry” season, since those who harvested in August and September were running low by November.  World Vision began distributing emergency food supplies to help 100,000 people there get through lean times.

In addition to providing aid to hungry families, the organization is  focusing on improving the resilience of communities during adverse weather conditions and addressing the underlying causes of cyclical food crises to ensure long-term food security.

World Vision recently celebrated a milestone in Mali: engineering crews drilled the 1,000th well to provide communities with clean water. Food supplies and cash assistance help people survive. Access to water improves overall health and, in many cases, helps families reduce their dependence on rain by irrigating parched land from the nearby well.