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Mali: Coping with malnutrition in Timbuktu

04 Jun 2018


Credit: OCHA/Eve Sabbagh

Food insecurity and malnutrition are now endemic in Mali. Of the 4.3 million people who need food aid (more than one in four Malians), some 885,000 will be in a crisis phase and about 48,000 in an emergency phase. An additional 3.4 million people could be in a crisis phase if assistance does not reach them on time.

Despite this scenario, to date Mali’s 2018 Response Plan is only 24 per cent funded. But if more funding does not reach humanitarian partners, they will be unable to scale up response activities.

The nutrition crisis is hitting the most vulnerable people hard, especially children. The Ministry of Health and the Nutrition Cluster have revised upwards the number of children at risk of acute malnutrition. Overall, the number of people affected by severe acute malnutrition increased from 163,000 in early January to 274,000 during May, while cases of moderate acute malnutrition have risen from 470,000 to 582,000. In the Timbuktu region alone, this year 33,500 children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition - 8,000 of whom in its most severe form.

“The conflict that has hit this country since 2012 has dramatically worsened child malnutrition levels in the Timbuktu and Gao regions, in northern Mali,” said Ute Kollies, Head of the OCHA office in Mali. “Saving the lives of children is without a doubt the absolute priority. Nonetheless, prevention initiatives must be significantly reinforced in order for us to address malnutrition in a sustainable way.”

"Every child treated is a life saved"

According to UNICEF, over 850,000 children under age 5 are at risk of malnutrition across Mali, 1 in 28 newborns die in their first month, and over 2 million children are out of school. “The children in Mali are suffering in silence,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director, during her recent visit to the country. “We must invest in the children of Mali today to protect their futures.”

Malnourished children from Gossi village in the Timbuktu region are treated at Gao’s regional hospital. It is 160 kms from Gossi, but it’s the closest hospital they can reach.

Credit: OCHA/Eve Lomina

Aminatou, 17-months-old, is from Gossi. She is suffering from complications due to malnourishment, and she has just been admitted to Gao’s hospital for the second time in six months. Her grandmother, Leila, accompanied her to the hospital because her mother had just given birth to her third child. “I have already lived through the loss of my daughter’s first born, and I am determined to fight for Aminatou’s life,” Leila told us while rejoicing over her grandchild’s first signs of recovery.

Credit: OCHA/Eve Lomina

Last year, Gao’s regional hospital was able to function thanks to support from humanitarian partners including UNICEF. This support included regular financial contributions and in-kind donations of medicine and basic nutritional supplies (F75 and F100 milk, Plumpy Nut).

Aminatou was treated by Dr. Fatoumata Kanté (left), who was hired through the NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF Spain). “The treatment of acutely malnourished children is a fight that I pick up on a daily basis. Every recovered child is a life saved,” she told us.

Women fight with all they have

Credit: OCHA/Katy Tiam

Neither the blazing sun nor the exhausting and long walks to find water affect the motivation of Dieynabou Ahmed, a 40-year-old mother of seven, and president of an association that enables women to set up gardening projects in Ahara village, 6 kms from Timbuktu.

The association, led by Dieynabou, is called Tamitaft, which means “mutual aid”, and to date it has 42 members. It is currently supported by Action Against Hunger with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. Action Against Hunger distributes seeds, provides agricultural equipment, and offers training programmes on product management and distribution.

“The parcels of land that we are using here allow us to cover our most basic needs, which helps us preserve our dignity,” says Dieynabou. ‘’Thanks to this gardening project, we manage to provide regular and quality meals to our families, especially to our children, but also to sell part of our production at the local market.”

Credit: OCHA/Katy Tiam

Selling their harvest provides women with an income, allowing them to send their children to school and access health care. “This mechanism deserves to be extended to other villages so that other people can improve their living conditions. But for this to happen, we need funding,” said Tidiane Fall, Action Against Hunger’s Head of Mission in Mali.

“Humanitarian assistance alone cannot address the complex vulnerabilities of the Timbuktu region in a sustainable way,” said Ms. Kollies. “This type of project is to be fostered in order to gradually reduce reliance on aid. It is crucial to boost the efforts of humanitarian and development actors, not in the sense of continuity of actions but in a dynamic of contiguous actions aimed at reversing the trend of chronic vulnerability of populations that have experienced one or more shocks.”