Malians starving as conflict escalates


Thousands of people who fled fighting in Mali since September are going hungry because funding has run out as the conflict escalates, aid agencies said.

The West African country has been a battleground of Islamist militants, ethnic militias and international troops since a rebel uprising was hijacked by jihadists in 2012.

Fighting intensified this year, leaving 5.2 million people in need of aid – more than at any time since the start of the crisis, according to the United Nations.

Of 70,000 people who fled their homes in the last two months, half have received food and shelter and more than 34,000 have been “left to starve”, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“No one predicted the situation in Mali would worsen at this level,” said Hassane Hamadou, NRC country director, adding the agency exhausted its emergency funding in September.
“Most of our analyses at the beginning of the year were not that critical,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The escalation was the result of a combination of increased counter-terrorism operations, poor rain leaving limited grazing and a presidential election in July that increased tensions, experts said.

Catholic Relief Services said it responded to 19 crises since July, compared to five in the same period last year. In all cases civilians fled either military operations, threats by armed groups, or inter-communal conflict.
“We’re all shocked by how much work there has been. Our team of responders finish a mission, come home and they’re out the door again,” said Erik Heinonen, head of emergencies in Mali for the international relief agency.
“We’ve had to cut back on what we would generally want to provide to people who have been displaced and really focus on what is the most life-saving,” he said.

More than a third of the people who fled violence are mothers and children, who usually have nothing and no access to food, shelter or clean water, said the NRC.

The United Nations requested $330 million for the humanitarian response in Mali this year and received half that.

Foreign countries are spending more on military and security operations in Mali, mainly aimed at rooting out Islamists, aid agencies noted.
“Maybe it’s time for the international community to think about the balance and see how to respond to the humanitarian crisis as well,” said Hamadou.