Risks for children and women are far from over, in Mali
The risks for children and women are far from over in Mali. UNICEF’s scale-up must continue in order to improve response to the humanitarian emergency and ensure a sustainable future.
By Rachel Warden
15 February 2013 – Since last year, Mali has been facing a serious food and nutrition crisis, aggravated by political instability and conflict in the North. Nearly 400,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the conflict in Mali, including some 227,206 internally displaced people and 167,245 refugees who have crossed into Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and the Niger.
Schools have been closed, health centres have been looted and vandalized and serious child rights violations have taken place.
With the recent military intervention to regain control of Mali’s vast desert North, the humanitarian situation, exacerbated by insecurity, has become even more serious for the most vulnerable populations – children and women.
To give an inside look at what it takes to respond to a complex emergency on the ground, UNICEF has published a special report, Supporting Women and Children through an Emergency. The report chronicles the scale-up of UNICEF operations in Mali, a country already struggling from poverty, inadequate education and a weakened health system.
Supporting Women and Children through an Emergency details the response of UNICEF Child Survival, Protection, Education and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programmes. Highlighted by photographs and personal stories of children and women who have benefitted from the work of UNICEF, the report emphasises the need to build resilience for the future of Mali.
The scale-up of UNICEF operations has been multifaceted and, sometimes, unprecedented in Mali. Surge staff – experts in emergency situations – have been deployed. New and better protocols for the screening and treatment of malnutrition have been put in place. An increase in emergency supplies has been made possible by air shipments and the procurement of additional, strategically located warehouses.
Throughout the conflict, life-saving nutritional foods for children and water and sanitation kits for families have continued to be delivered by truck to local partners, and, ultimately, by boat, along the Niger River. Programmes have been fast-tracked to protect children and women from violence. Children who missed out on education when they fled their homes have been taken in by schools in the South and given catch-up classes and school supplies.
But the risks for children and women are far from over.
While control of the North has been restored, new threats must be addressed. In retaliation to the military intervention, rebel forces have engaged in suicide bombings and guerrilla fighting.
Information needs to be gathered on new and returning displaced persons. The displaced persons who plan to return to their homes in the North will face dangers from ongoing conflict and remnants of war. Landmines and other unexploded ordnance pose risks, especially for children who may accidentally come across them. If children are unaware of the dangers, they may even try to play with them.
Women and girls who have been victims of gender-based violence will need counseling. Health centres in the North need to be assessed and rebuilt.
Children who have been associated with armed groups and forces will need help. UNICEF is already working to identify these children, provide rehabilitation and help reunite them with their families and communities.
Preparing for new risks
It is not just the children from the North of Mali who urgently need help. Throughout the country, nutrition crisis rages on. An estimated 660,000 children under 5 years old will suffer from malnutrition in the coming year, including 210,000 who will suffer from the most severe form of malnutrition, leading to wasting and threatening their young lives.
Building on gains and results over the past year, UNICEF is poised to respond to the new risks that Mali’s children and women face. The scale-up must continue in order to improve the response and ensure a sustainable future.
To scale up, more support is needed. For the short run, UNICEF has put out an urgent appeal for funding, seeking US$15.2 million to address the basic needs of children and women affected by conflict in Mali, for the next three months.
To address the overall humanitarian needs across all sectors, UNICEF is seeking US$82 million in 2013. Without funding, UNICEF Mali will be unable to continue its support of life-saving interventions for internally displaced people, their host families and all children and women throughout Mali.