In Mali, Elections Mark Pivotal Moment for Change
Months after a military coup jolted the West African nation of Mali, lives still hang in the balance due to undernutrition and instability. Or as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof put it in his July 6th installment, “Many Malians are always on the edge of starvation, and the fighting and insecurity have pushed some over the brink.”
But now the Tuareg, an ethnic group of rebels, have agreed to a treaty with the Malian government to allow for the elections that took place this past weekend. The elections were peaceful, but it is as yet unclear if a candidate will emerge with more than 50% of the vote; if not, a runoff will take place on August 11th.
We at Action Against Hunger are calling on the nation’s new government, whenever it ultimately takes power, to prioritize a country-wide reduction in poverty and compromises among ethnic, political and religious groups. As a result of French military intervention, the extremists have been chased out of northern Mali—but despite the provisional end to armed conflict, a large number of Malians and others living in the Sahel region of west Africa are continuing to suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition.
Conflict displaces thousands and disrupts livelihoods
As a result of the crisis in Northern Mali, over half a million citizens were displaced, 353,000 internally and 174,000 as refugees in neighboring countries. Many displaced Malians fled to other nations within the Sahel region like Mauritania, in hopes of evading the conflict and the harsh restrictions of the extremists. While in Mali, the extremists violently imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law, which banned listening to music, consuming alcohol, smoking, and watching sports.
The influx of Malian refugees to other countries in the Sahel has strained resources in the already fragile and war-torn region. In addition, the regular harvest has been disrupted and there is a risk of another cholera outbreak during the rainy season, according to Frank Vantelle, our Country Director in Mali.
"It will be impossible to guarantee the food security of the population if the conflict among ethnic, political, and religious groups is not resolved in the short term.”
—Frank Vantelle, Action Against Hunger Country Director, Mali
Malnutrition may continue to claim lives
In the northern region of Malian city Gao, 13.5% of children are acutely malnourished, as are 17% in the Bourem region of Mali. A recent Action Against Hunger nutritional survey reveals that more than 20,000 additional children under the age of five could suffer from acute malnutrition if no action is taken. Within this group alone, more than 5,000 could die in the Gao region. “It will be impossible to guarantee the food security of the population if the conflict among ethnic, political, and religious groups is not resolved in the short term,” Frank Vantelle said.
Humanitarian priorities for the new government
As a result of the decline in fighting, media attention is no longer heavily focused on Mali—this means fewer people are aware of how troubling current conditions really are. With the elections there is a possibility that the country can become more stable, allowing humanitarian agencies to bring aid to the people who need it the most.
We are calling on the new Malian government, when it’s instated, to increase efforts to establish peace between conflicting groups and ensure the return of municipal services to the north; additionally, a sound economic plan must be put in place to account for and ensure the future return of Mali’s refugees. We are also hopeful that funds will be used appropriately, for the development of the country and implementation of programs to reduce poverty and improve national food and nutrition security.
We’re currently distributing supplementary food to about 30,000 children between the ages of 6 and 26 months in Mali, and are also working on the treatment and rehabilitation of malnourished children across the Gao region. With our colleagues across the humanitarian sector, we will continue to watch what happens in this critical election cycle—it can make or break the future for scores of children throughout Mali.
Tell Us What You Think
Why will it be so important for humanitarian groups like Action Against Hunger to collaborate with the incoming Malian government to reduce malnutrition and poverty?