A young Malian boy, his family displaced by continuing instability in northern Mali, now lives in a tent in the Mopti midland region.
By David Tereshchuk*
July 9, 2013—The emergency that recently drew the world’s eyes to Mali, that largely arid and desperately poor country stretching from the Sahara Desert southward to the Niger River, has now moved off the front page of many news media, but enormous humanitarian challenges remain.
The radical Islamist regime, which professes loyalty to Al Qaeda and took over the north of the country, has been expelled from power through military action by the former colonial power, France, along with allied armies from neighboring African countries. But the human cost of the violent upheaval goes on and needs continuing international action for it to reach full resolution.
Even as civil order is to some extent being restored, the climate of instability that remains means that about 40,000 people per month are still being displaced from their homes, according to counts taken as recently as early June 2013. In the words of Francesco Paganini, executive secretary of International Disaster Response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), “That’s an extraordinary number in a small nation of fifteen million people. We must not forget them.”
UMCOR is supporting efforts to bring urgent aid to Mali’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) by helping to fund the relief efforts of a long-time partner, Canada-based GlobalMedic. GlobalMedic has considerable experience in Mali and a track record of effective work with UMCOR in countries ranging from Pakistan to Haiti and more.
Mali’s large displaced population continues to have many pressing needs. For example, the 50,000 or more IDPs clustered in and near the capital city, Bamako, struggle to access clean drinking water. The water sources that are available to displaced families often are affected by widespread contamination.
So a major priority for UMCOR funding is a program of distributing water-purification tablets, known as Aquatabs. The tablets reach families in need through a local implementing partner, Bonne Vie, meaning “Good Life.” Bonne Vie’s staff and volunteers are trained in the operation of Aquatab-based water purifying, and in turn will ensure that recipient families employ that knowledge fully and pass it on to other families in their community. Each individual tablet purifies one or even ten liters of water—the tablets come in two sizes and strengths.
UMCOR is also partnering in Mali with the International Blue Crescent (IBC), which is headquartered in Turkey and has often worked with UMCOR, especially in predominantly Muslim countries like Mali (whose population is 80 percent Muslim). IBC’s work, with funding support from UMCOR, is concentrated on the regional hub-town of Mopti, located between the capital and the northern battlegrounds. While full-scale hostilities may have ended, unexploded landmines and other hazards are still making life unbearably insecure for many northerners. As a consequence, there are now 20,000 new IDPs, or more, in and around Mopti.
IBC’s program is ensuring that IDP families receive essential foodstuffs and access to basic medical assistance. The food supply comprises rice, oil, sugar, milk, and flour, and medical kits are being allocated to the four primary health-care units in the Mopti region.
UMCOR’s Paganini says, “We are always eager to link up with local aid partners who offer enormous value, since they carry little in the way of heavy infrastructures, and at the same time possess great knowledge of the situation on the ground and of the community’s own culture.”
With hidden landmines still taking their toll and so-called “mopping up” operations by armed forces still continuing, there will inevitably be a need for outside help in Mali well into the future.
As Paganini observes, “The Mali situation is far from resolved, even if to the world’s media it may appear to be so.”
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will help provide a continuing supply of basic needs for internally displaced persons and their families in Mali and elsewhere in the world in times of crisis.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.