Aid Workers’ Diaries: Working with partners to ensure effective humanitarian response in Mali

18 Jul 2012

A child gets measured for malnutrition in Mali. Credit: OCHA
Two OCHA staff share their experiences of producing an action plan to respond to one of the world’s most complex crises.

Mali, in West Africa, is facing severe humanitarian challenges and multiple crises after enjoying relative stability for many years. Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of malnutrition, a third of the population needs assistance, 1.56 million people are at risk of cholera and the conflict in the north has displaced over 350,000 people. 

Political instability and conflict have seriously affected the Government’s ability to help its people cope. More than 240,000 Malians have fled across the border into neighbouring countries such as Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, exacerbating the food and nutrition crisis in the whole of the Sahel region.
 
As part of OCHA’s surge capacity, humanitarian affairs officers Daniel Pfister and Amadou Bailo Sow were deployed to Mali in April. Their role was to work with the Government, UN agencies and other humanitarian partners to develop a comprehensive humanitarian action plan: a Consolidated Appeal (known as a CAP) that would help coordinate more than 60 organizations that were providing food, water, shelter and livelihood support in response to the emergency. 
 
“In the beginning it was not easy to convince everyone of the added value of the CAP,” said Daniel. “Many people were sceptical about the additional workload and the rather short time frame.” 
 
“Some of our partners said they had enough money to carry out their work, so why did they need a CAP?” adds Amadou. “We had to explain that a CAP is not just about money; it’s about coordination, reducing gaps and overlaps, and working together towards the same goals.” 
 
Given the urgency and magnitude of the crisis, Daniel and Amadou only had six weeks instead of the usual three months to complete the CAP for Mali. They had no offices or facilities, and it was the hottest and most humid time of the year in Bamako. 
 
“The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women gave us some office space, and we used the World Health Organization (WHO) conference room so we could organize a workshop about the CAP,” says Amadou. “Agencies hosted all our cluster meetings. So it was a real joint effort.”  
 
Daniel and Amadou worked day and night with their OCHA colleagues and representatives from UNICEF, WHO, UN Refugee Agency, World Food Programme and many NGOs to deliver a plan to address the humanitarian situation and deliver aid as effectively as possible. 
 
“The task was considerable,” said Daniel, who returned to the region after two years. “Needs-assessment data was often outdated or unavailable, and access to conflict-affected areas was very limited. But everyone participated constructively in the process and put the needs of affected people at the centre of their work.” 
 
After weeks of collaboration and coordination, the Mali CAP was launched in mid-June. The plan requires US$214 million for 100 projects aimed at helping 4.6 million people who are affected by the food and nutrition crisis, as well as 2.2 million people who are suffering the consequences of violence and conflict. So far, about 42 per cent of the funding has been received. An additional $120 million is still needed. 
 
“It was sad for me to see Mali, which has been a stable country for 20 years, facing such trouble,” said Amadou, who grew up in neighbouring Guinea. “I feel very close to the Malian people, I speak the language and I feel for them in this situation. Helping Malians by designing the CAP was a very rewarding experience. But the key to our success was the strong commitment from all the humanitarian agencies and cluster leads.” 
 
“In the end, it was great to see everyone working together to make the CAP happen,” said Daniel. “But the work is not finished,” he added. “Now that we have agreed a common strategy, with clear priorities and indicators, the plan needs to be implemented fully.”