Communities in northern Mali have been struggling since the majority of farming and stockbreeding services have withdrawn from the area. The Mali Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have responded by distributing food to over 400,000 people and supporting a large-scale livestock vaccination campaign.
Poor security conditions in the north have driven many herders south or to neighbouring countries. Some have lost animals on the way, through disease and difficulties in reaching water and grazing land. Arable and livestock farming, the lifeblood of the household economy, are suffering the combined impact of conflict and repeated food crises.
"Armed conflict, unpredictable weather conditions and economic instability have exacerbated an already difficult situation," said Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of the ICRC regional delegation for Mali and Niger. "So we must keep supporting communities to help them cope with the crisis and sustain their livelihoods."
Keeping livestock healthy is extremely important for people living in northern Mali, who rely heavily on their herds for income and food. ICRC veterinary programmes are helping to meet the essential needs of these communities.
The Mali Red Cross and the ICRC are continuing to support a large-scale campaign, launched by the Malian Ministry of Stockbreeding, to vaccinate and treat livestock for free. The ICRC hopes that 1,500,000 heads of livestock will benefit from the programme - including cows, sheep, goats and camels - in the regions of Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao and Mopti. The animals are treated for parasites and vaccinated against diseases such as sheep and goat plague, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, camel pasteurellosis and sheep pox.
By the end of November, the ICRC had purchased 15,000 cows, sheep and goats from herders across the Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu regions, even in the remotest rural areas. Through this destocking initiative, herders sold off their weakest animals, which were slaughtered and the meat given to the poorest families.
Continuing large-scale food distributions
With the departure of most civil servants and people involved in the informal sector, economic activity is sluggish in towns and cities in the north. Much of the population is reliant on humanitarian aid.
"Essential goods are expensive, considering people's purchasing power," explained Jean-Nicolas Marti. "They simply can't afford to meet their basic needs without outside help."
The Mali Red Cross and the ICRC are therefore continuing to distribute food, an operation that began in July, to 420,000 displaced people and residents in need.
Supporting farming activities
The conflict has prevented most families in the region from farming their land. The Mali Red Cross and the ICRC are helping farmers to diversify their food crops and develop other sources of income. A farming-support programme has therefore been rolled out in urban and especially rural areas of Mopti, Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. More than 1,000 families are benefiting from the programme, which focuses on repairing irrigation systems, providing technical support and distributing seed and tools.
Helping people on their return home
When the conflict intensified in March 2012, many families fled to neighbouring countries. After spending five months in the Djibo and Deou refugee camps in Burkina Faso, and the M'berra refugee camp in Mauritania, some chose to return to their villages.
The Mali Red Cross and the ICRC provide these people with assistance. Upon their arrival, more than 12,000 returnees have received tarpaulins, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets, cooking utensils, hygiene kits, buckets and clothing.