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IRIN Africa | West Africa | MALI | MALI: Nomadic lifestyle threatened by years of successive droughts | Children, Economy, Environment, Food Security | Focus
Sunday 18 December 2005
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MALI: Nomadic lifestyle threatened by years of successive droughts

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


A Tamashek nomad hut, one of many scattered through central Gao

GAO, 17 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - When Tashcout Worra Kofan was young, she would gather together her small children, pack her thatched domed hut onto donkeys and together the family would trudge alongside their grazing sheep across the semi-desert of eastern Mali.

But last year's drought killed the last of her herd and with them the nomadic lifestyle that she had always known.

She still lives in the traditional portable hut of the Tamashek nomads, but nowadays it's static and never moves from Gao, the main town in the region, a dusty trading post near the Niger border.

A piece of USAID embossed cardboard and an old piece of bed frame have been incorporated, adding a tatty permanence to the structure.

"Before, when there were lots of animals we would move with them. But the animals all died and I had to come to Gao to find a means to live," explained Tashcout.

"It was during the dry season that they would die. Each year we lost more," said Tashcout, who raised five children in the arid desert plains, north of Gao.

She is now a stocky grandmother with big rough hands, whose grey hair is gathered together in the traditional three twists, one on her forehead and one over each ear.

"When I married my husband," she reminisced, "we had 30 sheep and two donkeys. Then the sheep had children too so we ended up with 40 sheep," she said, beaming.

Tashcout Worra Kofan, as the sun sets over her once mobile hut in Gao

"That was the best time. I was young and I was very happy," said Tashcout taking a break from sweeping the earth outside her hut as the sun sets, taking it with it the blazing heat.

"But as the animals died, life became tougher and even finding enough to eat became impossible," she shrugged.

Across West Africa, more and more nomad families have been forced to give up their traditional lifestyle as years of successive drought have decimated valuable herds.

Now Tashcout, a widower, lives with one of her daughters and some grandchildren. No one has a job.

Tashcout goes out very morning and sweeps other people's doorsteps in the hope of getting a small coin. Or she'll laboriously pound millet, if she's given some in return.

Comparisons with the history's big droughts

Last year's drought combined with the worst infestation of locusts seen in the region for 15 years, has prompted comparisons to the conditions that followed the great droughts of the 70s and 80s.

"The situation is certainly more severe than we have seen for five years. People are likening the situation to 1973 and 1985," said Mohamed Ould Mahmoud, the country director in Mali for the UK-based charity Oxfam.

In the Tamashek village of Marsi, nearly 100 km south of Gao and 80 km away from a tarmac road, Mohammed A'hmed Ag Moya says that his herd, which he inherited from his father, has never recovered to pre-1985 levels.

Drought not only kills off the beasts but also forces herders to sell skinny animals, often at knock-down prices, so that they can buy food.

"When there's no rain there's nothing to eat and we have to sell our animals to sustain ourselves until the rains arrive," said Mohammed who is grateful that he managed to get through the year with five goats and one camel to his name.

Mahmoud Abdullayi, left, chief of Marsi

According to Christophe Breyne, the technical coordinator for French NGO Action Contre la Faim, the rains that have brought a flush of green to the plains around Marsi are enabling animals to recover weight, health and even reproduce.

"But if the rains stop, next year will be harder than this..... We need to remain vigilant," Breyne said.

The rainy season ends in September and the first harvests will follow soon after. But in Marsi, where there is no electricity, no clinic and only a religious school where children learn to recite the Koran, there is the sense that each year is getting harder than the last.

"Life for my father was easier than for me," said Mahmoud Abdullayi, the village chief.

"But for my children, I don't know. If I have a child that becomes a judge in New York perhaps life will get better."


 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

No famine, but a perennial problem of poverty,  15/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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