Mali: Failed rainy season forces some communities to the brink
Last year’s rainy season was a failure in many localities in Mali. The rains – usually at their heaviest between June and September – arrived late and ended early in Bandiagara a district in the Mopti region of Central Mali, severely affecting some of the region’s most vulnerable families.
The land in Bandiagara is especially rocky, and the line between successful and failed crops is perilously thin even in a good year.
“With this year’s harvest, I could only feed my family for two months" said Dienaba Tapily, the head of a family of 10 in the tiny village of Nandoli. “I was only able to produce 200 kg of cereals this year, which is very low compared to the previous years when I produced at least three times this quantity."
Despite this drop in production, Dienaba is one of the more fortunate in her village. Not far from her home, Tégué Ouologueme, a father of nine, was unable to harvest anything.
Only enough food for 2 to 3 months
An assessment carried out in Bandiagara confirmed this dramatic drop in agricultural production compared with previous years. Overall, families were only able to provide enough to feed themselves for two to three months. In a normal year, this harvest would yield enough for six months, with a little extra to be sold on local markets.
In Bandiagara, the failed rains will have a protracted impact. Only 10 per cent of the land can be cultivated, so families here have a tradition of off-season market gardening using water that they store in dams.
Each year, two or three market garden vegetable crops are produced. However, because of the truncated rainfall, only one cycle will be possible this year, further exacerbating the vulnerability of families.
Families turning to counterproductive survival mechanisms
People have already started leaving Bandiagara, searching for work in towns and on farms in neighbouring districts. Some families have started selling their cattle at low prices simply in order to survive. Most have reduced their intake of food – the majority of households are now only consuming one meal per day instead of three.
For the moment, many families are getting by on assistance from their family members who live outside Bandiagara. Despite this, the most vulnerable households need more help to meet their minimum food requirements.
Humanitarian assistance is underway
Aid groups in Mali have stepped up their support for communities in Bandiagara. The World Food Programme (WFP), working alongside the international NGO World Vision is set to support about 91,000 people across the district. Most of these efforts will begin in mid-February but the aid groups are already providing food for 11,000 school-aged children at 54 of the district’s schools.
“With this year’s food difficulties, these school canteens are helping to keep children in school and provide relief for parents who know that their children are having lunch,” said Mr. Guindo, the Principal of the Nandoli school.
In the coming weeks WFP’s support will extend to a further 6,800 children aged between 6 and 23 months, and to 13,000 pregnant and nursing women.
Other groups are involved as well. Local NGO YA-G-TU, distributed food provided by the government to about 18,000 people in December and January, and in recent weeks, the NGO CARITAS started to distribute food to 12,000 people.
A new approach to aid in the Sahel
This worrying food situation comes as the UN announced a new plan to tackle food insecurity in the Sahel – a region that runs along the southern fringe of the Sahara desert. At an event in Rome earlier this week, UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos said that the way the humanitarian community responded to the needs of communities in Mali needed to change.
“More people than ever are at risk in the Sahel and the scale of their needs is so great that no agency or organization can tackle it alone,” Ms. Amos said.
“[The new] plan for the region will help us reach millions of people with vital assistance, build resilience and save lives.”
The new Sahel Humanitarian Response Plan calls for US$2 billion for 2014, including $568 million for Mali.
“In Mali 800,000 people are in need of immediate food assistance,” said Noel Tsekouras, the acting Head of OCHA’s office in Mali.
“This year we need $568 million including $255 million for food aid and agricultural support as our contribution to the Government’s efforts. We need this funding soon if we are to contain the situation in places like Bandiagara.”