Aid agencies are struggling to meet the food and water needs of people and their livestock in drought-hit Mali, with potentially "catastrophic gaps" in the humanitarian response, according to Oxfam’s country head, Gilles Marion.
Some 258,000 people are in need of urgent assistance in Mali, according to the government-led early warning mechanism (SAP), with a further 371,000 at risk, following poor rains across the Sahel region.
There are acute malnutrition rates of 19 percent in the northeast, according to Oxfam. Meanwhile, 40 percent of cattle in the north are sick or dead and a further 30 percent at risk of disease or death, according to food security analysts FEWSNET.
Eight out of 10 people in northern Mali raise and breed cattle to survive.
“There will be a catastrophe if more people do not respond,” Marion told reporters at a press conference in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.
The World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Oxfam, are some of the main actors responding to the crisis in Gao and Kidal.
Oxfam has US$6 million - from the UK government, British public, the European Union humanitarian aid office (ECHO) and the US Agency for International Development - to help pastoralists in the north feed their animals, or to use as vouchers to spend on household priorities, whether food, water, animal fodder or medical care.
ICRC has distributed food and seeds to 97,000 people in the north, is buying up thousands of cattle at pre-crisis prices, and is putting cash injections into the economy to try to stabilize prices.
The government has subsidized cereals and animal fodder since April, and distributed 7,000 tons of food to 23 communes; a further 2,600 tons of grain are on their way. It is also sending 1,100 tons of animal feed to Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, but “this is not nearly enough to meet all the livestock needs, and some at-risk communes will not receive grain,” Madeleine Diallo Ba at the Agriculture Ministry in the capital, Bamako, told IRIN.
She is in urgent talks with the World Food Programme (WFP), the European Union and Japan to see if they can release rapid funding to enable the government to procure more.
WFP head Alice-Martin Dahirou told IRIN there are enough actors in place but not enough money. “The region is well-served by several NGOs and local associations who could do the job if resources were put at their disposal to support the government services.” She added: “It is difficult to determine at this time the additional number of people who need support, in the absence of a comprehensive analysis of the situation.”
The quality of the aid response in the north is being compromised because it is not well-coordinated, said Marion, who called on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to fulfil this function. Food Commissioner Lansry Nana Yaya Haidara agreed: “Agencies are intervening, but in a fragmented way. We want all partners to start working together towards common goals - that is the only that way we can get tangible results on the ground,” he told IRIN.
Noel Tsekouras, deputy head of OCHA in West and Central Africa, told IRIN: “OCHA had a presence in Mali from 2005 but was forced to discontinue in 2008 due to financial constraints… As mentioned by Oxfam, there may be a need for the UN to reinforce the cooperation among the key [response] stakeholders.”
On the financial front, some “encouraging” headway has been made, he said, with emergency activities under way and US$1.5 million provided by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). However, only 23 percent of the $8.8 million requested by Mali under the West Africa appeal has been funded. “Without more resources, it will be difficult to tackle the acute vulnerabilities being reported,” he told IRIN.
“The priority at this point is to… assist the government in coordination, and to scale up the response. However, it remains the responsibility of the government to facilitate the short-term response and tackle the longer-term structural causes,” said OCHA’s Tsekouras.
Crisis “silent”, “slow”
The slow response is partly linked to it being a slow-developing crisis, said Marion.
An aid analyst who preferred anonymity agreed, saying UN agencies are very development-focused in Mali, which makes them sluggish when intervening in humanitarian crises.
Mali may also have been eclipsed by the scale of the food security crises in neighbouring Niger and Chad, which between them have nine million people unable to access adequate food.
But the number of people and animals at risk in Mali is significant, and cannot be overlooked, said Marion. “This is a dynamic, creative and adaptable population - we need to help them now and help them avoid further crises down the line.”
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