The government needs US$59 million more - to add to the $69 million it has already committed - to launch its response, according to food security commissioner Lansry Nana Yaya Haidara.
Oxfam needs to raise US$4.5 million before it can realize its plans to distribute food to the poorest families in and around Gao, northeastern Mali, and destock 6,000 sheep and goats, its food security head Abdoul Kadri told IRIN.
Most at risk are 258,000 people across 23 communes in Kayes in the west, Timbuktu in the central-north, and Gao and Kidal in the north and northeast, according to the most recent government survey.
Rains came late in 2009 - in July - and were erratic across the country, leading to patchy harvests. Unexpected rainfall in November also destroyed some cereal stocks, said the government assessment. Pastoralists have been heading south in droves to find pasture for their herds, leaving women, children and a few animals, behind in the north.
“The situation in Gao is very critical,” Oxfam’s head of food security Abdoul Kadri, told IRIN. “Too few actors are here and ready to respond… The government relies on NGOs to respond in the north but there are not enough of us here,” he said.
Cereal prices are up 45 percent on two years ago, according to Bamako-based teacher Moussa, while cattle prices in Kidal have fallen from $61 late last year to $10 now, according to Rousmane Ag Assilaken, head of local NGO Azhar.
Some 6.6 million cattle are at risk of dying, said Mary Diallo, director of Mali’s early warning system.
Aid groups in the north include the World Food Programme (WFP), which works through the local authorities, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam, Action contre La Faim and Save the Children, which mainly work through local NGOs such as the Malian Red Cross.
“Donors seem to be waiting for an emergency to break out here… but we need to prevent an emergency from occurring. We need to act now,” Oxfam’s Kadri told IRIN. “If we don’t, we could see a catastrophe.”
But not all agencies are short of funds. ICRC communications head for Niger and Mali, Saadatou Malam Barmou, told IRIN they have sufficient funding to continue food distributions and support community cereal banks in northern Mali and start to destock some 20,000 animals in weeks to come. UNICEF has already raised the $11.5 million needed to treat 83,000 malnourished children in the north according to its spokesperson Martin Dawes.
Some 38 percent of Malian children under five are chronically malnourished - or stunted - and some 15 percent have “wasting” through acute malnutrition, according to UNICEF.
The European Commission (EC) is Mali’s biggest donor, and has been fighting chronic food security and malnutrition problems with a US$21 million programme for several years.
The EC’s humanitarian aid office, ECHO, will commit funding to fight nutrition in the north, ECHO’s regional head Cyprien Fabre told IRIN, though the exact figure is still unknown. “We will focus on those left behind in the north, to make sure their nutrition needs are met,” he said.
While recognizing the food insecurity situation is “critical”, Fabre said the government here has more capacity to respond than other Sahelian authorities. “There are already lots of food security projects in place; the government has started to respond; and people are used to coping with repeat food insecurity in these parts,” he said.
Furthermore, significant cereal stocks are positioned around the country. It was a question of moving them from A to B, he pointed out.
Food Security Commissioner Haidara said the government has 35,000 tons of grain in cereal banks and emergency stocks in the country; while WFP has additional emergency stocks, according to its Mali head, Alice Martin Daihirou.
The government plans to destock thousands of cattle; and distribute 7,000 tons of food in Gao and Kidal, Prime Minister Modibo Sidibé told reporters last week. Thus far it has delivered 2,000 tons of rice and 1,000 tons of animal feed.
Rice has been subsidized since the food price crisis hit Mali in 2008, but the government plans to extend these subsidies to millet and sorghum this year.
The government food security unit, WFP, UNICEF and NGOs are meeting regularly to map out the response.
Some US$1.5 million of emergency funding from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s Central Emergency Reserve Fund has been released to UNICEF, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization to help them gear up quickly.
WFP will double its school-feeding programme in affected areas to two meals a day and will launch blanket feeding to all children under age two.
Priorities for aid agencies include rehabilitating existing and building new water access points; nutrition for under-fives, which UNICEF will push on; and providing animal fodder for the animals that are the pastoralists’ lifeline.
“For now the response is adequate - the government is already acting. If we collectively need to scale up our response, we will do,” WFP’s Daihirou told IRIN.
But Oxfam’s Kadri is concerned there is not a big enough sense of urgency. “There is lots of pressure on pastoralists in the north. We need to act soon to help them cope.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions