A few months ago, several humanitarian organizations suspended their activities in northern Mali when cities such as Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal were still under insurgent control. The Mali Red Cross Society, with support from its Red Cross Red Crescent partners, and a few other organizations, braved the danger posed by the conflict to provide lifesaving assistance to thousands of people who remained in the north, and to those who ran to safety in the central and southern regions of the country.
In Mopti, in central Mali, where over 40,000 people have sought refuge, the society has been one of the leading agencies in humanitarian operations.
"We were overwhelmed by the sudden and massive influx of people fleeing from the north. The streets were crowded with people," says Moumouni Damango, regional president of the crisis committee in Mopti. "The Mali Red Cross Society was the first humanitarian organization to come alongside us, bringing its experience and support."
In the early hours of the crisis, hundreds of Red Cross volunteers were mobilized to provide first aid and to transport those who were sick to health facilities. They worked tirelessly to accommodate the displaced, provided them comfort and ensured they had shelter.
Given the deterioration of sanitary facilities and challenging hygiene conditions due to overcrowding, volunteers were also mobilized to raise awareness about hygiene, provide drinking water and organize demonstration sessions on water treatment.
"The displaced people now make up more than 7.5 per cent of the population of Mopti. Imagine the pressure in terms of water and latrines needs," said Dr Mahamane Koumaré, Regional Director of Health in Mopti. "Fortunately, thanks to the Red Cross, prevention activities have proven successful. We have not recorded a single case of cholera in an area where it is endemic."
Since the crisis erupted, the Mali Red Cross Society, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Committee of the Red Cross, Movement partners and other organizations, has distributed hundreds of tons of food to displaced people and host families. Essential items including tents, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, soap, and kitchen sets were also provided.
The needs of displaced populations and host families remain enormous. Living conditions are poor. Many are still traumatized from what they have witnessed and wait for a better security situation before returning home.
For those who want to return now, the way back will not be easy. Without assistance from the Red Cross, the UN and others it will be difficult to return and rebuild their lives in the villages they left. Plans are underway to ensure help is there when people do return.
The Mali Red Cross Society recently conducted an assessment to identify what people will need. Indications are they will need everything: shelter, water, food, health care and support in re-establishing their livelihoods. "One of the new areas of focus in our work will consist of putting in place a programme of assistance and support to returnees in the north," said Mamadou Traore, Secretary General of the Mali Red Cross Society. "To achieve this however, we will need the support of all. The needs are too great for us to do it alone."