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IRIN Africa | West Africa | MALI | MALI: No famine, but a perennial problem of poverty | Children, Early Warning, Economy, Education, Environment, Food Security, Health, Natural Disasters | Focus
Saturday 17 December 2005
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MALI: No famine, but a perennial problem of poverty

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


A severely malnourished baby in Gao hospital

GAO, 15 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - Mali is not in a state of famine, aid workers say. Instead, like many countries in the region, Mali suffers from deep rooted poverty that means children die every year of hunger and only long-term development and investment will end the cycle.

Mali lies in the arid Sahel that stretches over 3,500 km from Mauritania in the west to Chad in the east. Years of successive drought and a vicious plague of locusts in 2004, left crops and vegetation stripped bare. As a result, food stores across the region are empty, herds of animals have died and millions are hungry.

Though aid workers say this year is worse than usual, the sad fact is that mothers lose their children to hunger every year in countries like Mali.

"It's not just this year, it is always a difficult year," explained Patricia Hoorelbeke, who is heading up Action Contre la Faim missions in Mali and Niger. "Even in a normal year there are problems of food insecurity and child malnutrition to a severe level - it's that that's serious."

Mali is one of the poorest of the world's countries. According to the World Bank, total annual national income divided amongst the whole population leaves the average Malian only US $290 each. That's over 40 percent less than the sub-Saharan African average.

For the people living with that kind of poverty, it means that they don't have enough money to eat the food available on the market.

And so in the sand-filled town of Gao in eastern Mali, skeletal, malnourished babies can be found in homes only yards from markets selling fish, eggs, meat and vegetables and sacks of rice, millet and sorghum.

Even in an average year, one in four Malian children aged between six months and five years, are malnourished to some degree, the World Bank data shows.

And this in a country that has recently been lauded for its democratic reforms and adherence to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank policies. In June, Mali was one of 18 countries to get total debt relief from the G8 -- the world's industrialised nations, and the IMF and World Bank's paymasters.

Though debt relief is beneficial, aid workers say that countries like Mali need more than debt write-off, they need large scale investment and development.

"We need to increase support in terms of governmental assistance and investment in education, health and HIV/ AIDS so that we can manage these problems and help people to be productive in the coming years," said Pablo Recalde, the head of the UN World Food Programme in Mali.

Only 55 percent of Malians are literate and life expectancy at birth is only 40 years, according to the World Bank.

Fair trade, no food crisis?

Terms of trade must also be addressed, Recalde says. Mali is one of many impoverished countries that has seen the value of its main export, in this case cotton, crash because of the billions of dollars of subsidies paid to farmers in richer nations.

"We also need to transfer technology and know how - the whole issue of the information divide is particularly relevant here where Mali is being left behind more and more," the WFP official said.

In the fields outside the capital, Bamako, farmers, be they men, women or children, can be seen bent double at the waist, turning the soil laboriously with the most basic of hoes for hours in the blazing sun. The lucky few, have, at best, oxen or camel-pulled ploughs.

A new report by the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute calculated that Africa-wide nearly US $310 billion of investment is needed to improve these people's lives and eradicate hunger.

But if current trends continue, they estimate that 38.3 million children will suffer from malnutrition in Africa in 2025, up from 32.7 million today.

The government of Mali, which has distributed 30,000 tonnes of food since the end of 2004 as well as subsidising staple foods and helping organising food-for-work programmes, has been praised by WFP for its handling of the crisis.

However, other aid workers say that the government used up its limited stocks of food too early.

State emergency food reserves are now empty, the government's Food Commissioner, Lansry Nana Yaya Haidara, confirmed to IRIN.

The WFP launched an appeal to Mali in November 2004, but to date less than a third of the US $13.6 million requested, has been received. Aid workers say that the slow response from the international community is hampering assistance.

"We need to increase the speed that the money comes in. I could buy food in-country and distribute it immediately but I need the resources to do that," said Recalde. "In the meantime, we are doing everything we can with the little we have."


 Theme(s) Children
Other recent MALI reports:

Yellow fever epidemic in Kayes,  11/Nov/05

Union sends warning with one-day strike,  19/Sep/05

Nomadic lifestyle threatened by years of successive droughts,  17/Aug/05

Children hardest hit by crisis that leaves 1.1 million hungry,  10/Aug/05

Desert blooms with first rains but hunger continues,  8/Aug/05

Other recent Children reports:

PAKISTAN: Acute respiratory infections increasing among quake survivors, 16/Dec/05

WEST AFRICA: IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 308 covering 10-16 December 2005, 16/Dec/05

COTE D IVOIRE: War brings easy profits for some, hardship for others, 15/Dec/05

MIDDLE EAST: “Invisible” children suffering from neglect, says UNICEF, 15/Dec/05

SOMALIA: Primary attendance lowest in the world - UNICEF, 15/Dec/05

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