North Mali: Alarming humanitarian situation following months of hardship

By Oxfam

A serious food security crisis is developing in the Gao region of northern Mali due to a shortage of cereals on the market, rocketing food prices, and restricted access, warned international humanitarian organization Oxfam today.

In a recent survey conducted between January and February 2013 in the circle of Bourem, an area in the Gao region where Oxfam carries out programs, the organization found that up to 80 percent of adults have reduced their daily food intake, in order to allow their children to eat at least twice a day. They have also had to reduce their daily food rations or share the food they received with neighbors or family members.

A separate market survey in the same area revealed that in January 2013 the price of basic food essentials went up by as much as 70 percent as a result of the military operation. By February, these abnormally high prices, far greater than the five year average, had still not stabilized. Oxfam‘s survey found that cereals like sorghum, millet, and corn are no longer available on the market. While the availability of certain cereals is now improving, the continued closure of the Algerian border is preventing access to other key products in the diet of northern Malians, such as pasta, oil, sugar, and rice.

Fuel shortages, rising fuels price, and conflict-related damage have also affected the water and electricity supply in Gao.

Military interventions carried out since the beginning of the year have led to road closures and the departure of traders, who have still not returned to the area. Furthermore, a large number of small traders, many of whom are women, lost their goods and cash in a fire in the Gao vegetable market during fighting in February. This trade was essential to allow the poorest households to buy food in the small quantities they were able to afford.

“In Gao, prices have increased dramatically and local rice is gone up by more than 50 percent since October last year. This is having a dramatic effect on the population. The banking system is completely disrupted and the population has very little cash available. They will find it difficult to meet their immediate needs if the situation doesn’t improve,” says Philippe Conraud, Oxfam Country Director in Mali.

Oxfam is calling on the humanitarian community and donors to mobilize and provide rapid assistance to those most in need. As of March 15, 2013, the UN’s emergency appeal for Mali had only received $56 million, just 17 percent of the total $386 million requested.

Oxfam is concerned that an overwhelming focus on the military intervention and operations is overshadowing urgent humanitarian and protection needs and calls on donors to step up their funding for key sectors such as food security, water, sanitation, protection, education, health, and sustainable livelihoods.

Oxfam needs more than $9 million for 2013 to be able to implement its humanitarian program in both the Gao and Segou region for the next six months. Oxfam is aiming to reach 70,000 people for support to livelihoods and food distributions. The latest food distribution was completed at the beginning of March.

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