In areas of northern Mali the price of food and fuel is rocketing as supplies start to dry up after looting following recent military operations, and with traders who have fled the area failing to return amid growing numbers of reports of reprisal attacks, international agency Oxfam warned today.
Many food traders, who are predominantly Arabs or ethnic Tuareg, fled the area as French troops advanced. They were key suppliers of food, fuel and other goods sold in markets across northern Mali. These markets are rapidly running out of stocks of food and fuel - and much of what food was available has been looted. The traders have yet to return and many Arab and Tuareg refugees in neighboring countries tell Oxfam they fear that they would become subject to reprisal attacks if they do return.
"If traders do not come back soon and flows of food into northern Mali remain as limited as they are now, then it is likely that markets will not be properly stocked and prices will stay high - making it very difficult for people to get enough food to feed their families. These traders are critical for local economies - and these economies have already been enormously weakened by almost a year of crisis.
"This phase of the war may almost be over, but the battle to build peace and stability has only just begun. If people feel that their lives are at risk and that their families are not safe they will not return to Mali. It's as simple as that," said Philippe Conraud, Oxfam country director in Mali.
Food prices spikes
Food is already getting scarce in many markets in parts of the Gao region, where communities have been facing shortages since last year's drought. According to recent assessments by Oxfam, food prices have risen by nearly 20 per cent since foreign military intervention in Mali in January.
Conventional trade routes between northern Mali and the south, Niger and Algeria are severely restricted at the moment.
Oxfam is calling on both Malian and international forces to ensure the security and safety of all Malian people so that communities can put their lives together and the process of peace and reconciliation begins.
Read the report: Mali's Conflict Refugees: Responding to a growing crisis - our analysis of how to better meet the needs of refugees & build a better future for Mali