Terre des hommes fears deterioration of the humanitarian situation and helps children suffering from malnutrition and their families

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Worried by the situation of the people living close to the war areas, and also to support the governmental organizations in their response to the emergency, Tdh has opened an operational base in Segou, 200 km to the north of Bamako. Tdh’s priority is to bring aid to the health centres in this region, the worst hit by malnutrition. Tdh has undertaken to improve the conditions of access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in these centres and the neighbouring villages, all of which have seen the influx of thousands of displaced persons from the towns in the north, fleeing from the armed conflict. Particular attention is being paid to the children who have been separated from their parents or become victims of the violence.

In a country already suffering from the food crisis that hit the whole Sahel region in 2012, the present situation in the north and centre only worsens the living conditions of people living in close proximity to the zones of conflict. The instability of State structures makes access to basic services (healthcare, water, shelter, education) even more precarious. In Burkina Faso and in Mauritania, where Terre des hommes has been working for decades, its teams help Mali refugees in the camps. Terre des hommes believes that an escalation of the war in the north will provoke the exodus of additional families seeking food or medical treatment, as well as all the dangers connected with violence, especially against women and young girls.

Two crises: dramatic consequences

In Mali, and particularly in the Segou area, agriculture plays a crucial role. This way of life, when threatened by drought, weakens families and children. Living in one of the fifteen most poverty-stricken countries in the world, communities cannot really relate to any other source of revenue and food. Even prior to the terrible drought of 2011-2012, food insecurity and malnutrition were already chronic in the country.

In rural areas, populations without resources lose their access to basic services: drinking water, schooling, health care, farming materials, credit and employment. In Segou, over 90,000 children work, sometimes from the tender age of 5, in agriculture, fishing or livestock farming. The young girls are often obliged to migrate to the large towns to seek domestic work. Some of them there become victims of abuse or early pregnancy. If they go back home, these girls are generally rejected by their families, either sent away or placed in other families.

For over a year this situation has been deteriorating due to the armed conflict in the north of the country. According to a statement made by the United Nations, more than 230,000 people are displaced in the south of Mali and neighbouring countries, either moving in with extended families or becoming separated in the camps around the towns (source: OCHA). In Segou, on the major trunk route to Bamako in the north, the influx of displaced people is especially significant. Owing to a lack of security caused by the conflict, transportation of foodstuffs is carried out less frequently, services function at half-speed and the opportunities for work are reduced. The children are also at a greater risk of abuse and the consequences of a poor diet. Some of them are separated from their families and find themselves in the south without homes to go to.

Watching over healthcare and child protection

Terre des hommes intervenes in two health districts in the Segou area (Macina and Markala). It is working to improve the capacity of the existing public services by offering healthcare and protection in the communities. For the health services, Tdh improves the quality and accessibility to medical treatment, principally for children with severe malnutrition who are exposed to the danger of serious retardation in their physical development, or even life-threatening risks. Tdh also supports the region’s health centres by taking care of children, responding to infectious and parasitic diseases, nutritional deficiencies, vaccination, and by improving the infrastructure in matters of sanitation and hygiene. Training courses given to the staff of the health centres and to community health workers further the identification of and care for the children suffering from malnutrition.

In the coming months, these same health workers will also be given training in how and when to refer young victims of violence, abuse, exploitation and negligence to Tdh’s protection agents and to State social service workers who will be supported with training and material means. These social workers will thus be able to follow-up the situation of such children and come to the aid of the poorest families. The children will get the help appropriate to their needs, whether health, school or psychosocial. The most poverty-stricken families will benefit from socio-economic support by which they will be able to restart economic activity and so meet the needs of their children. The youngsters suffering from the most serious problems will be referred to a network of professionals who will give them social, medical, educational or even legal aid.

With this project, Terre des hommes has undertaken to care for 8,000 children under 5 suffering from malnutrition, to improve the capabilities of the nursing staff in 31 health centres, to improve access to drinking water for 40,000 people and to set up a system for child protection in the two districts of Macina and Markala, in order to safeguard 500 children who have become the victims of violence, abuse, exploitation and negligence.