Tens of thousands of people have fled northern Mali as Islamist militants tighten their grip over the vast desert region. Those who remain face an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation with little access to food, clean water and medicine. The International Rescue Committee and international relief organizations, meanwhile, are struggling to deliver vital aid to suffering Malian civilians.
Over 450,000 people have fled the north since the Islamist takeover and another half-million people inside the country are in need of immediate assistance according to the United Nations and international aid organizations.
“The situation in the north of the country is becoming more and more alarming,” said Tasha Gill, who directs the IRC’s aid programs in Mali. “Basic services like health centers, water points and schools have stopped functioning. And although food can be found at the market now, many simply cannot afford to buy it. A perfect storm is brewing and thousands need humanitarian assistance.”
A week after Mohammed was born, he was abandoned by his parents and left in the care of an aunt who was already struggling to raise nine children.
“Milk is expensive and it is very hard to feed them all,” the aunt, Assetou Diallo, said as she sat in front of her home, a one-room shack next to a busy dirt road on the outskirts of the Malian capital of Bamako.
This year has been particularly difficult, the 35-year-old said. The drought killed the family’s modest crops, grown in a small garden nest to the house, and the price of food has skyrocketed.
The heat inside the small medical clinic is stifling. An occasional breeze from an open window provides the only relief. A dozen lethargic children, their ribs exposed and twig-like arms outstretched, lay on beds covered by mosquito nets.
I accompany Keita Cheick Oumar, a doctor with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), as he checks on patients in a health clinic located in the densely populated Kati district, near the Malian capital of Bamako. Kati district has been hard hit by Mali’s deepening hunger crisis and as elsewhere in the country the crisis is having an especially devastating impact on children.