The Socio-political Situation
Mali is one of the world’s poorest countries. The country ranked 175 out of 187 on the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index. More than half of its population of 15.3 million live on less than US$1.25 per day. Average life expectancy is 51 years of age, and around one in five Malian children do not survive to their fifth birthday. Communities in Mali are highly exposed to multiple natural hazards linked to the dry tropical Sahelian climate, and to extreme weather variability, particularly droughts, locust invasions and floods.
The 2010 conflict in Libya had a significant impact on Mali. The return of Tuareg fighters who had served in Muammar Qaddafi’s army helped reignite the long-standing conflict between the Government and Tuareg rebels fighting for autonomy of the northern Azawad. The quantity and sophistication of the weapons they brought back tipped the precarious balance of power in the north. In mid-January 2012, Tuareg movements (mainly MNLA and Ancar Dine) commenced armed offensives that caused large displacements of people within Mali and to neighbouring countries. As of 4 April 2012, the three northern regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu were under rebel control, with several armed groups claiming control of key cities such as Timbuktu and Gao.
The March 2012 military coup and overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Touré delayed presidential polls planned for April 2012 and general legislative elections planned for July 2012. With pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and plans for a possible military AU-ECOWAS intervention, as of mid-July 2012, Mali’s political processes and overall political situation remains uncertain.
Sub-regional security remains volatile. Radical groups such as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operate in the area, and the Mauritanian and Algerian military periodically engage in cross-border activities. With terrorist and criminal groups exploiting vast swathes of the country, kidnappings and transnational criminal activities, including weapons and drug and human trafficking, have risen in recent years.
The Humanitarian Situation
Food security and nutrition crisis: Mali has been severely affected by the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel. By mid-2012, estimates indicated that around 30 per cent of the population, 4.6 million people, were at risk of food insecurity and more than 175,000 children suffered from Severe Acute Malnutrition. Multiple years of inadequate rainfall led to poor harvests while food prices also increased across the region.
Conflict in northern Mali: Clashes between Tuareg movements, such as the MNLA and the Malian military, resulted in large-scale displacements and human suffering. As of 1 July 2012, 159,000 people were internally displaced and 220,000 had crossed the border into Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. Competition for scarce resources in areas already heavily affected by the drought and food and nutrition crisis saw mounting tension between host communities and newly settled IDPs and refugees.
The situation further deteriorated in early April 2012 following the military coup and continued fighting in the north. It is now characterized by very limited humanitarian access to all three northern regions (Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal), where 3.2 million people live, and by the withdrawal of humanitarian actors from these regions following the looting of premises and equipment by various armed groups. Access to people in the south is still possible, but some regions in the middle of the country, such as Mopti and Segou, are difficult to reach.
In this context, it is expected that humanitarian caseloads will further increase in 2012. Due to the evolving situation, the continued fragility of the Mali transitional government, and a possible military intervention. humanitarian partners agreed on a figure of 120,000 IDPs as a basis for planning assistance in the next six months, while also taking into account a more pessimistic scenario of 200,000 IDPs.
Given Mali’s poor infrastructure and transportation services, vast territory and highly volatile security situation, access to people who require humanitarian assistance is a key challenge in Mali. Considering that the majority of the IDPs and those affected by food insecurity and malnutrition in Mali are women and children, OCHA’s role in leading and coordinating humanitarian action will be crucial to ensure their needs are met.
The Humanitarian Response
Until recently, the international community in Mali tended to focus on development issues. In the past, OCHA’s Regional Office for Western and Central Africa (ROWCA) facilitated emergency contingency planning and simulation exercises. As part of the MDG Acceleration Framework, Mali participates in an initiative that aims to speed up progress towards sustainable food-and-nutrition security.
In November 2011, with the current food and nutrition crisis looming, the Presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger called on the international community to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to combat food insecurity and malnutrition in their countries.
To prepare and respond to this crisis, ROWCA facilitated the development of a regional strategy paper titled Response Plan for a Food Security and Nutrition Crisis in the Sahel, under the leadership of the regional Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC). The paper was prepared by Action Contre la Faim, FAO, OCHA, WFP and UNICEF, within the Regional Food Security and Nutrition Working Group. The strategy was launched in Dakar on 15 December 2011, and a revision was issued on 7 February 2012.
Given the complexity and size of the crisis, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners are scaling-up their capacities to better respond to humanitarian needs. OCHA surge deployments facilitated the establishment of a Humanitarian Country Team (HCT). Four clusters (food security, nutrition, health and protection) were activated in March 2012. An additional three clusters were activated by mid-April (Logistics, Emergency Telecoms and WASH) and by the end of May, the Education cluster was also activated. An OCHA country office was established in May 2012. The appointment of a Regional Humanitarian Coordinator (RHC) for the Sahel in April also contributed to greater strategic coherence and synergy in the humanitarian response at the regional and country levels.
Access to northern Mali is highly restricted because of insecurity, and UN and (I)NGO partners are potential targets of banditry, terrorist, and rebel activities. Therefore, OCHA facilitated the application of a CERF grant for $1 million, allowing UNHAS to improve access to remote parts of northern Mali.
The Mali 2012 CAP was issued in June, targeting five million people affected by both the food- and nutrition crisis as well as the conflict in the north of the country. The CAP contained 100 projects with a combined request for $214 million.
Without significant increases in assistance, it is anticipated that the humanitarian situation in Mali will deteriorate further in 2012, especially during the lean season (May to September). The humanitarian needs regarding food security and nutrition in 2013 will depend on rainfalls and the quality and quantity of the harvest in the upcoming agricultural seasons – more accurate projections will be available in early fall.
The political situation is uncertain and highly volatile. The international community, particularly ECOWAS and the African Union (AU), is negotiating return to civil government, holding elections and considering military intervention. Divisions between political parties may deepen over the coup’s legitimacy, and hostilities between the Government and various Tuareg movements may continue. There is also significant risk that Tuareg-related violence may spill into neighbouring countries (especially Niger), and that potential alliances may form between rebels and terrorist groups (such as AQIM and Boko Haram). North-south tensions in Mali may intensify and possibly lead to a total disruption of basic social services and civil protection in the north. Community leaders efficiently use traditional conflict-prevention methods to avoid clashes, but ethnic violence cannot be excluded. This would significantly increase humanitarian caseloads (refugees, IDPs) and hamper already limited access.
OCHA will adjust its resources and capacities accordingly to the changing environment, with a view to best serve the humanitarian community and its efforts to assist people in need.