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Fighting cuts off food and humanitarian assistance

Mali, February 5, 2013

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  • People in northern Mali have been struggling with food shortages caused by drought and political instability for the past year. Photo: Mercy Corps
  • Since military operations began in January, most vendors like this man have fled the area to protect their stocks from looting. Markets are almost completely shut down and food supplies are rapidly running out. Photo: Mercy Corps
  • We have been distributing vouchers that allow families to buy food on the local market, but our assistance is suspended until access to the north can be restored. Photo: Mercy Corps

Populations in northern Mali are facing severe food shortages since fighting has cut off vital humanitarian assistance and access to markets.

Mercy Corps team members monitoring the situation in the Gao region report that food supplies are dwindling since the military offensive against rebel extremists began in January.

Families are dependent on local markets that usually receive weekly deliveries, but most have completely shut down. Vendors in Gao and elsewhere have fled to protect their stocks from looting; commercial supply routes have been disrupted by the closure of the Algerian border and other military blockades; and most humanitarian agencies, including Mercy Corps, have been forced to suspend aid distributions for security reasons.

Other food sources are not widely available and stocks from the rice harvest are rapidly running out, leaving the population to face a looming crisis. Urgent steps must be taken in the next days and weeks to restore crucial lifelines as quickly as possible.

Latest in a year of struggle

This is the latest escalation for families who have struggling with the Sahel’s severe drought and food crisis since the outset of 2012. Mali’s political instability over the past year further aggravated the dire conditions, disrupting not only agricultural production, but the entire economy.

Other sources of income, including household labor and the tourist industry, have completely disappeared. Banks closures have made it impossible for families to receive remittances from abroad, and commercial activities have decreased significantly.

Not able to earn enough money and afford higher food prices, many households had to sell or barter remaining assets, like animals, leaving them with no way to adequately meet their basic needs.

Access must be restored to help families recover

Mercy Corps began working in northern Mali last year, helping families secure desperately needed food from local vendors. Vouchers allowed them to buy what they needed most, built trust and cooperation among communities, and gave markets a boost despite the financial system breakdown.

We’re also helping families replace and improve the health of their livestock, to ensure they have the means to support themselves in the long-term. These efforts are stalled, however, until access to the north is restored.

Families who've already exhausted their safety nets are incredibly vulnerable to disruptions now, as they are just beginning to recover. In order to prevent a humanitarian emergency, French and Malian military forces must work to swiftly open and secure routes into northern Mali that allow crucial humanitarian and commercial traffic to reach those in need.