Today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched an emergency relief appeal for $153.7 million to assist displaced people from Mali who have fled to neighbouring countries.
The appeal, revising the $35.6 million one made earlier this year, will assist refugees in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger said a press release by the agency. Greater funding will allow it to help 440,000 people until the year’s end. At present, only 13 per cent of the appeal has been filled.
Almost 320,000 Malians have been forced from their homes and have now crossed international borders or are internally displaced following clashes between Tuareg rebels and government forces in the north and March’s coup d'état. Most of the displaced are women and children.
The UNHCR expressed its gratitude to donors, but stressed the level of underfunding. Financial support is urgently needed in advance of the rainy season with can cause flooding and cut off disaster sites.
Visiting displaced persons in Burkina Faso last week, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Valerie Amos, spoke out about the hunger crisis in the Sahel.
Levels of acute malnutrition in the country have already pushed past 10 per cent and may near 20 per cent in the times ahead. The situation is being exacerbated by the tens of thousands of refugees pouring into the country from Mali, leaving the country with two humanitarian challenges to tackle.
“That's why, for us, it's so important that we're helping the local community as well as supporting the refugee population,” said Ms. Amos, who visited the Menteo camp, only 45 kilometres from the Malian border last week.
Aid agencies in the area are providing water and sanitation facilities, food, education and psychosocial support for uprooted children.
The current humanitarian situation may cause 18 million West Africans to go hungry in 2012, including three million children whose health will suffer or lives will be lost, warned David Gressly, the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
A lethal combination of factors—from failed rains and poor harvests to rising food prices—has forced families to deplete the food stores they usually rely on to make do during the “hunger gap.” The hunger gap is a period of food scarcity between harvests. The next harvest is in October.
It is particularly among refugee populations in Mauritania and Niger, however, that acute malnutrition levels among children aged five and younger are classified as “alarming.” Acute malnutrition is diagnosed based on a child’s weight and height, the circumference of their mid-upper arm and the presence of edema in their lower legs and feet.
Even when there is no disaster, an estimated 300,000 children die of hunger across West and Central Africa. Mali too, has not escaped food insecurity. There, half of the 3.5 million people in need of food assistance this year are children, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
"Working in the Sahel region also makes the Mali situation one of UNHCR's most challenging operations in Africa because refugees and the internally displaced are in areas where insecurity, banditry and threats of kidnapping make it impossible for us to establish an office presence and deploy field staff as close to the refugees as we would like," said the UNHCR in a press release.