Mali: A Silent Crisis in North As Food Shortages Worsened By Political Stalemate

June 15, 2012

"While all eyes are on the ongoing political stalemate in Bamako, and the growing radicalism of groups such as Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) in the north of Mali, it's easy to forget that 1.3 million Malians are facing drastic food shortages this year.

It's a silent crisis, mostly because the legions of humanitarian workers and journalists - who have worked hard to highlight the terrible effects of hunger and increased market prices of food in neighbouring countries such as Niger and Chad - are struggling to even get to northern Mali. Since the take-over of the north by the rebel Tuareg MNLA group, and the subsequent rise of the Islamist groups, approximately half of the country's territory has become off-limits. While a small number of aid agencies such as MSF and Action Against Hunger are still operating, activities and travel are restricted and staff are working under difficult conditions.

The malnutrition figures are striking, and could potentially be worse than in other parts of the Sahel. Action Against Hunger, which is working in the north-eastern town of Gao, say that 60 percent of children there are showing signs of malnutrition, 30 percent of those are 'global acute malnutrition' and may need medical care. This is twice the level which would ordinarily trigger an emergency response by the aid community - 'amazingly high' as [Action Against Hunger] put it to me."