Bamako — Mali has been facing a serious food and nutrition crisis aggravated by political instability and conflict in the north since last year. As a result, nearly 400,000 people have been forced out of their homes, including some 230,000 internally displaced and over 160,000 refugees who have crossed into Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria. Schools have closed; health centres have been looted; and serious child rights violations have taken place.
With the recent military intervention to regain control of Mali's vast desert north, the humanitarian situation, has further deteriorated.
For an inside look at what it takes to respond to a complex emergency on the ground, UNICEF has published a special report Supporting Women and Children through an Emergency.
The report chronicles the scale up of UNICEF operations in Mali, a country already struggling from poverty, an inadequate education system and a weakened health infrastructure. Supporting Women and Children through an Emergency details the response of UNICEF's Child Survival, Protection, Education, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programmes. With photographs and personal stories of women and children who have benefitted from the work of UNICEF, the report emphasises the need to build resilience for the future of Mali.
The report indicates the multi-faceted nature of UNICEF's scale up in Mali, for example:
• An increase in emergency supplies was made possible by air shipments and the procurement of additional, strategically located warehouses.
• Deliveries to the North of life saving nutritional foods for children and water and sanitation kits for families continued throughout the conflict by truck to local partners and by boat along the Niger River.
• Programmes were fast-tracked to protect children and women from violence.
• Children who missed out on education when they fled their homes were taken in by schools in the south and given catch up classes and supplies.
• New and better protocols for the screening and treatment of malnutrition have been put in place.
Those that are returning to their homes face a whole range of challenges, including: Landmines and other unexploded ordnance; Women and girls who have suffered gender-based violence need counseling; and damaged health centres in the north need to be assessed and rebuilt. UNICEF is already identifying and providing rehabilitation to help children associated with armed groups reunite with their families and communities.
In Mali today, it is not just the children from the North who urgently need help. Throughout the country the nutrition crisis rages on. An estimated 660,000 children under five years of age will suffer from malnutrition in the coming year, including 210,000 who will suffer from severe forms of malnutrition, leading to wasting and threatening their young lives.
Through the operational scale up, UNICEF is poised to respond to the new risks that Mali's children and women face. But the scale up requires support. UNICEF is urgently appealing for US$15.2 million to address the immediate basic needs of women and children affected by the conflict for the next three months. To address the overall humanitarian needs across all sectors, UNICEF is appealing for US$ 82 million in 2013.