A serious food security crisis is developing in the Gao region of northern Mali due to a shortage of cereals on the market, rocketing food prices and restricted access, warned international aid agency Oxfam today.
In a recent survey conducted between January and February 2013 in the circle of Bourem, an area in the Gao region where Oxfam carries out programs, the agency found that up to 80 per cent of adults have reduced their daily food intake, in order to allow their children to eat at least twice a day. They have also had to reduce their daily food rations or share the food they received with neighbors or family members.
A separate market survey in the same area revealed that in January 2013 the price of basic foodstuffs went up by as much as 70 per cent as a result of the military operation. By February, these abnormally high prices, far greater than the five year average, had still not stabilized. Oxfam's survey found that cereals like sorghum, millet and corn are no longer available on the market. While the availability of certain cereals is now improving, the continued closure of the Algerian border is preventing access to other key products in the diet of northern Malians, such as pasta, oil, sugar and rice.
Fuel shortages and rising fuels prices and conflict-related damage have also affected the water and electricity supply in the town of Gao.
Economy disrupted, food prices soaring
Military interventions carried out since the beginning of the year have led to road closures and the departure of traders, who have still not returned to the area. Furthermore, a large number of small traders, many of whom are women, lost their goods and cash in a fire in the Gao vegetable market during fighting in February. This trade was essential to allow the poorest households to buy food in the small quantities they were able to afford.
"In Gao, prices have increased dramatically and local rice is gone up by more than 50 per cent since October last year. This is having a dramatic effect on the population. The banking system is completely disrupted and the population has very little cash available. They will find it difficult to meet their immediate needs if the situation doesn't improve," says Philippe Conraud, Oxfam Country Director in Mali.
Focus on military distracts from humanitarian needs
The agency is calling on the humanitarian community and donors to mobilize and provide rapid assistance to those most in need. As of 15 March 2013, the UN's emergency appeal for Mali had only received $56 million, just 17 per cent of the total $386 million requested.
Oxfam is concerned that an overwhelming focus on the military intervention and operations is overshadowing urgent humanitarian and protection needs and calls on donors to step up their funding for key sectors such as food security, water, sanitation, protection, education, health and sustainable livelihoods.
Oxfam needs more than $9 million for 2013 to be able to implement its humanitarian programs in both the Gao and Segou region for the next 6 months. Certain donors such as the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Agency, ECHO, have already provided significant support.
Oxfam is aiming to reach 70,000 people via support to livelihoods and food distributions. The latest food distribution was completed at the beginning of March.