The United Nations refugee agency is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe unless there is a massive scale-up in responding to the needs of 320,000 people who have been displaced by the current political instability in Mali and the insecurity in the country’s north.
“The magnitude of the emergency, the number of displaced people and the serious conditions they are in – many are suffering from severe malnutrition – requires an urgent increase in the overall response to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its latest update.
Nearly 320,000 Malians have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries or seek refuge in safer parts of Mali as a result of fighting that resumed in January in the country’s north between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, the proliferation of armed groups in that region, and a deepening crisis due to a coup d'état in March.
As of last week, 170,553 Malians have found refuge in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, while 148,467 men, women and children are displaced inside Mali.
UNHCR stressed that funding is urgently needed to improve conditions for displaced Malians. Last month, it launched a revised appeal for $153.7 million to cover operations this year in Mali and the other three countries that are hosting refugees.
“A general lack of funding for the Mali situation continues to seriously hamper operations on the ground,” said the agency.
UNHCR added that while it is focusing on immediate life-saving activities, critical gaps exist in water and sanitation and basic aid in many refugee camps and settlements. Refugees are often living on daily water supplies below “emergency standard,” and the sanitary conditions in most camps are “a recipe for epidemics,” especially considering the coming of the rainy season.
UNHCR also noted that borders in all four countries remain open, and there are no reports of forcible returns or people being turned away from the borders to neighbouring countries.
“However, the general security situation in the region remains a challenge for UNHCR and all humanitarian actors,” said the agency.