The conflict in northern Mali and urgent food shortages are forcing thousands of Malians to flee their homes. According to the World Food Programme, around 1000 Malian refugees are arriving daily in neighbouring Mauritania.
Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels seized northern Mali after members of the army staged a coup in March. Islamists now control the region's three major towns - Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal - after falling out with the Tuareg groups who demanded independence for the area.
UNHCR estimates that 160,000 people in Mali have been internally displaced by the conflict. According to Malek Triki, a spokesman for the UN's World Food Programme in West Africa, unrest in Mali has ‘put an extra burden on local communities’ which have been left to ’find food for themselves and their children’.
The Sahel Region, a semi-arid belt crossing the north of Africa which includes Mali, was already battling a severe food crisis after failed harvests last year. Over 18 million people in eight countries face drought and food shortages. Desert locust swarms in the northern parts of Mali and Niger have compounded the situation and contributed to rising food prices. The little food that is available is now too expensive for many: a 100kg bag of corn that once cost $46 is now $56.
In July 2012, MRDF provided emergency grants to support local organisations to respond to the situation through the Act Alliance (Action by Churches Together) network. Funds are supporting work with local populations as well as Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal. The focus is on the most vulnerable groups, especially children, pregnant and lactating women. and elderly people. Nutritious food supplies are being supplied to those in urgent need, and families are being equipped to generate their own food and enough income to ensure they do not become dependent on humanitarian aid.
MRDF also continues to support its three long-term partners in Mali which are developing sustainable solutions to chronic food insecurity. By training farmers in soil and water management, irrigation, improved rearing techniques and collective harvest management, they are helping vulnerable rural communities to become more resilient. Some of this work is the focus of MRDF’s Harvest Appeal this year.