Families in Mali struggle to feed themselves as the crisis in the Sahel worsens 

Families in Mali struggle to feed themselves as the crisis in the Sahel worsens

It’s dinner time in the fishing village of Tako, and Mariam Dianapo is worried about how to feed her five hungry children. Report by Chris Niles

UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on an increase in child malnutrition in Mali as the Sahel region is gripped by a severe food crisis.

She has just one bowl of rice.

“I’m really finding it hard to feed my family this year. We rely on fishing here, but the water is low and there are almost no fish left in the river. The granaries are empty,” she said.

There are millions of families across the Sahel region in the same desperate situation as Ms. Dianapo. It rains only once a year in the region, and last year’s rains failed. Fields have turned to dust, water sources dried up, and cattle and fish supplies have dwindled. The price of rice in the markets has increased dramatically.

Millions at risk

Three million people in Mali lack the resources to feed themselves. An estimated 175,000 children face death from severe acute malnutrition – and in the worst-case scenario, this number could increase to 220,000. Each day more and more mothers like Ms. Dianapo are bringing their malnourished children to health centres for treatment.

A horse-drawn cart drives through a dusty field in Tako Village, Djenné Province, Mali. It rains only once a year in the region, and last year’s rains failed. UNICEF Image © UNICEF VIDEO

Her 10-month-old daughter, Kadia, is given a course of Plumpy’nut, a ready-to-use therapeutic food that will give her all the micronutrients she needs to make a full recovery.

But staff at the centre worry that they will not be able to cope when the so-called ‘lean season’ gets into full swing.

“There are a lot of villages around here that are in this situation, which makes me scared. We’re not even in the planting season, let alone the harvest season, which means we have more than six months to wait and people are already suffering. And what happens if there is no rain to plant or to harvest?” said Head Nurse Isaka Traoré.

The United Nations estimates that over 1 million children in the Sahel will need treatment for deadly malnutrition in 2012.  UNICEF needs $120 million to feed and treat them. UNICEF Mali is appealing for $26 million to meet children’s health and nutrition needs through the end of the year.

UNICEF has launched an international campaign to raise awareness of the coming food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel and to raise funds for a coordinated response.

Mothers wait for their children to be treated for malnutrition at the Konio Clinic in Konio Village, Mali. UNICEF Image © UNICEF VIDEO

Swift action needed

The situation in Mali is complicated by the fact that more than 200,000 people have been displaced by conflict in the north.

UNICEF has been working with partners across the region for months to mitigate the effects of the coming crisis. In addition to food, UNICEF is shipping medical supplies and is helping to ensure children have better health, water and sanitation services.

Swift action is vital to prevent the situation from deteriorating. For the moment, baby Kadia is out of danger. But her mother knows that the future is not certain.

“If the rains fail again this year, I don’t know what we will do,” Ms. Dianapo said.

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