ROME – The people of Mali continue to suffer the impact of mass displacement and they urgently need food and other humanitarian assistance, said the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Ertharin Cousin, on her return from a five-day trip to Mali and Burkina Faso (13-17 March) to meet people affected by the conflict in Mali and cycles of drought and poor harvests.
“People are still suffering; the crisis is not over. 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,” Cousin said, following a visit yesterday to meet displaced people in Mopti, a central Malian town considered the gateway to the country’s north. From there, WFP is sending food by road and riverboat to Timbuktu further upstream.
Parts of Mali have recently become more accessible and WFP has begun to send food to Northern Mali, which had been cut off from most humanitarian assistance since conflict flared one year ago. However the situation is still volatile and many areas remain out of reach.
The United Nations says more than 270,000 people have been displaced within Mali, while more than 170,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. WFP and its partners are providing food assistance in all four countries.
The international community must intensify its efforts to help vulnerable and displaced Malians, said Cousin, adding that continued support is needed for communities still feeling the effects of last year’s emergency caused by drought in the Sahel region of Africa – the third major drought in seven years.
“The Sahel is facing a double threat: instability, caused by a conflict that has sent refugees across its borders and chronic hunger, caused by cycles of drought and poor harvests. Last year the international community helped avert a crisis in the Sahel, but our work is not over,” Cousin said.
In Burkina Faso, Cousin visited a refugee camp in the village of Mentao. Burkina Faso is hosting over 47,000 Malian refugees. More than 5,000 of them have arrived since the start of this year. In Niger, WFP is providing food assistance to about 50,000 refugees and in Mauritania around 74,000 refugees are receiving help.
In Burkina Faso, Cousin also visited a local nutrition centre, a school feeding programme and a soil conservation project, all supported by WFP, its donors and partners. She noted that these activities reduced the impact of last year’s drought and would help communities to resist and recover from future shocks.
“It is not a matter of ‘if’ there will be a drought, but ‘when’. If we continue to follow through with what we started last year, we can truly build resilience in the Sahel,” Cousin said, referring to programmes that help farmers improve their yields and bring their produce to markets, as well as projects that create community assets, such as irrigation systems, and strengthen the local economy.
WFP plans to reach more than one million people in Mali this year and a further one million in Burkina Faso, with a variety of programmes including assistance to displaced people, school feeding, training, cash and voucher programmes that help people buy locally-produced food and nutrition for mothers and young children.
In 2013, WFP’s plans to assist 5.5 million people in eight countries affected by the impact of the Mali conflict and last year’s drought – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and The Gambia – with a total budget of US$611 million.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Each year, on average, WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.
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