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Jane Howard works for the Division of Communications at WFP’s Rome headquarters.
MOPTI -- They come in long, narrow boats across the Niger river, fisher folk who fled from the conflict in northern Mali arriving at a WFP food distribution point on the bustling quayside at Mopti.
Just a few metres away, porters wade past their waists with boxes of food assistance on their heads, loading brightly-decorated local boats, or pinasses, with badly-needed food supplies and nutrition products for Timbuktu in the north.
Picking up her entitlement of fortified flour, split peas and cooking oil, was Rokiyatou, heavily pregnant with her second child. Her husband was beaten and detained by armed groups in the town of Nafounkeh, near Timbuktu so she left and now lives on an island in the river. “I know how important the WFP food is for my new baby, and this food assistance is my only hope,” she said.
The conflict which erupted in Mali in 2012 has seen the north of the country taken over by armed groups. More than 200,000 people have fled from their homes and the same number again have left the country altogether to become refugees in neighbouring West African states.
"It was war"
Most of the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mali are staying with host families, but some are in makeshift settlements such as the one at Sevare near Mopti. A mother of young twins, Oumou (see photo above left), was sweeping the sand out of her tent. "I had to leave because of the shooting," she says. “It was war. At least here I get rice and peas.”
A few hundred metres away, at Wailirde School, they have had to construct a makeshift tent extension to cope with the influx of displaced families – 272 displaced children and eight displaced teachers.
Amadou Niangaly, Director of the Mopti education authority, said he was grateful to WFP for providing children with breakfast as well as lunch, as part of an emergency school feeding programme. “They were coming here hungry and when you have nothing in your stomach you have nothing in your head and you can’t study,” he said.
Meanwhile the country is recovering from a severe drought, and malnutrition rates are high. In the last year, WFP reached 1.2 million people throughout Mali, including more than 270,000 in the north of the country, where the security situation makes access for humanitarian workers difficult. Partnering with nine nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in the north, WFP is concentrating on preventing and combatting malnutrition among mothers and children under the age of 5.