The continuing conflict in Mali combined with the country’s impending “lean season” is threatening to aggravate hunger in the Sahelian nation, the United Nations food aid agency warned today, adding that it was “urgently working” with partner organizations to help affected families, particularly in the country’s North.
“I was able to go to Timbuktu last week and I saw how critical the humanitarian situation really is,” Sally Haydock, Country Director in Mali for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), reported in a news release.
According to the agency, one household out of five in the northern regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal faces extreme food shortages, with a significant deterioration of household food consumption in the past week.
“The areas around Timbuktu are unsecured and difficult to access, markets are not functioning properly, food prices are high, fuel prices are high, and there is a lack of liquidity, which means that people are not able to buy the basic necessities,” Ms. Haydock continued.
Northern Mali was occupied by radical Islamists after fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, uprooting hundreds of thousands of people.
However, with fast approach of the so-called “lean season” – a three-month dry period stretching from April to June – the WFP is planning to provide food assistance to 145,000 people in Timbuktu, 86,700 in Gao, and 34,500 in Kidal.
In addition, the agency plans to support over half a million people in Mali on a monthly basis despite an overall budgetary shortfall of $159 million.
Following her visit to Mali in early March, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin similarly underscored the UN’s resolve to feed the country’s northern areas with shipments of food by road and riverboat.
“People are still suffering; the crisis is not over,” Ms. Cousin said. “It is not safe in many of the communities in the North and people cannot go home. We need to continue to provide support so children can continue to receive food assistance.”