Rich Countries Ignoring Food Crisis in Mali

By Coco McCabe

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More than one million people in Mali are at risk from the major food crisis gripping West Africa because rich countries have not responded to the call for emergency funds, warned international aid agency Oxfam Wednesday.

The World Food Program has received just 14 percent of the $7.4 million appeal it launched in December 2004 to avert the crisis in Mali. By contrast, the program’s appeal for neighboring Niger is now 57 percent funded following intense media coverage in the last two weeks. About 3.6 million people in Niger are also facing a major food crisis.

"Now that the media spotlight is focused on Niger, the world has finally started responding to the crisis there. But this is not just about Niger,” said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, Oxfam Great Britain's regional director for West Africa. “This food crisis is affecting countries across West Africa, particularly Mali. The Mali government, international donors, and the World Food Program have started distributing food, but it is not enough. Donors have a window of opportunity. They can help to avert a major food crisis in Mali, but they must act now.”

About 1.1 million people in Mali are at risk from the food crisis, and despite the efforts of the country's government, the World Food Program, and aid groups, the most remote nomadic communities are still not getting the help they desperately need. The most affected areas are Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal in the north of the country.

Oxfam launched its food support program in the Gao region in northern Mali in March. It will benefit 50,000 people. Work has also been done to prepare people for the possibility of another locust invasion.

"Governments must fully fund the World Food Program appeal for Mali immediately. Every moment that they delay, more lives are put at risk," said Quist.

In neighboring Mauritania, where locusts last year destroyed nearly four million acres of land and pasture, 800,000 people are at risk—more than 25 percent of the population. The most affected regions are Aftout and Affolé, in the southeastern border region with Mali, and the Senegal River Valley in the south of the country. Oxfam's food support program in Mauritania, which started in April, will help 40,000 people.

More than 500,000 people in Burkina Faso are also in immediate need of food assistance, particularly in the northern province of Oudalan which borders both Mali and Niger.

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