WFP Races To Assist Refugees From Mali

WFP has launched an emergency operation to deliver life-saving food assistance to thousands of people fleeing conflict in Mali. As refugees stream into areas already strained by drought in the Sahel, it's imperative to reach them with assistance in time for the summer Hunger Season.

ROME--An emergency operation is underway to reach tens of thousands of people forced from their homes by the conflict in Mali. Many of them have fled to countries like Niger and Mauritania where the local population is struggling to feed itself in the wake of a long drought.

"Time is not on our side," said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “If no new food or cash contributions are received immediately, the resulting inability to pre-position and distribute enough food at the peak of the lean season, from June to September, would be catastrophic for the most vulnerable, food insecure people–especially women and children.”

A struggle to survive

At the M'bera camp in eastern Mauritania, refugees tell stories of week-long treks across the desert with little to eat along the way.

"We had to leave all of our animals behind," says Ely ould el Hassan, a herder who travelled eight days to reach the camp with his family. "My mother is so sick now she can barely stand up. And my son, Yusuf, is too thin for his age. He's five years old."

Seven months pregnant, Fattimah al Said braved the journey after her husband was killed in the fighting. "Everyone in my village has left. The markets are empty and there is no more food in the shops," she said.

M’bera is home to nearly 70,000 people like Fattimah and Ely who continue arriving at the camp at a rate of some 200 per day. They’re among the 250,000 refugees from Mali and over 300,000 displaced people still inside the country that WFP plans to assist in the coming weeks and months.

Sahel emergency

The influx of refugees from Mali has exacerbated the food crisis in the Sahel by placing an added strain on communities who are struggling to feed themselves in the wake of a hard drought. In some of these areas, local communities have been reduced to eating wild plants to survive.

Preventing and treating acute malnutrition amongst 3.5 million children and pregnant and nursing mothers is at the core of this WFP Sahel-wide response.

Food insecurity during the lean season leads to significant peaks in acute malnutrition and infant mortality in a region where malnutrition rates are high even in non-crisis periods.

WFP’s plans to scale up emergency operations to reach 9.6 million people during the peak of the lean season could be derailed unless sufficient funding can be secured to help bridge a shortfall of around US$ 360 million.