Worrying situation in Gao: Urgent need to improve access to water, food and electricity

(Bamako, 27 May 2013): Access to safe water and electricity as well as sufficient availability of food are among the key humanitarian priorities in Gao in eastern Mali, a town with approximately 70,000 inhabitants. This is the assessment from a mission to Gao on 25 May led by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Mali, Mr. Aurelien Agbenonci, accompanied by the Representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The mission met with the regional authorities, humanitarian actors and local women and youth associations. “I was touched by testimonies I heard about the deteriorating conditions of living in Gao,” said Mr Abgebonci. “It is urgent to accelerate the resumption of basic social services and to increase the capacity to respond to the needs of the population. Aid workers are working under extremely difficult conditions and must be praised, however more resources are needed to reduce the suffering of the most vulnerable populations,” added Mr Agbenonci.

Access to safe water has deteriorated in Gao due to disruption of the distribution system caused partly by the breakdown of generators and lack of electricity. The amount of available drinking water has decreased by almost 60 per cent during the past weeks. In some neighbourhoods, there is no water and people are obliged to go elsewhere to collect water. According to people the mission met in Gao, the situation is even worse in rural areas where the Niger river remains the only source of water in some places. This situation is a cause of high concern as cholera has reappeared in the district of Ansongo where 22 cases of cholera, including two deaths, were recorded between 8 and 22 May. The health authorities, supported by humanitarian organizations, have responded immediately to contain the epidemic. Since 23 May, no new cases of cholera have been reported, but the epidemic threat remains due to the precarious water and hygiene conditions.

Ongoing food assistance has reached approximately one third of the population, but the needs remain only partially covered as an increasing number of families are affected by the food crisis in the northern part of the country. These families are asking for their needs to be increasingly integrated in humanitarian programmes. “The rehabilitation of the water distribution system as well as the scaling up of food assistance are pressing needs in Gao and require immediate actions in order to improve people’s living conditions,” said Mr. Agbenonci who also stated that United Nations agencies are increasing their presence in Gao for more actions. “We have deployed staff in Gao to strengthen the humanitarian coordination mechanisms in order to better assist people affected by the crisis and to better identify uncovered needs”, said the acting Head of OCHA Mali, Mr. Noel Tsekouras.

As of 27 May, the humanitarian appeal for Mali (CAP) had received some US$116 million out of a total request of $410 million, representing coverage of 28 per cent.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.