Mali (MNN) — Mali is edging dangerously near the precipice of becoming a failed state.
Global concerns over that possibility prompted France, the United Kingdom, and even Canada to some response. At the same time, ongoing military operations in northern and central Mali have caused the humanitarian situation to deteriorate.
Already in the grip of a food shortage from the drought, tens of thousands are at risk. More than two million people were at risk of food insecurity in Mali. They included 510,000 people in immediate need of food, and 1 million people at risk of food insecurity in northern regions.
Now, it's worse. Peter Howard, Food for the Hungry (FH) director of emergency response, says, "A lot of people have been displaced; upwards of 250,000 people have been displaced internally. Then, another 150,000 people have left the country, gone as refugees to other countries, in part, because of this conflict."
Access to some of the refugees has been limited by security issues. However, "Food for the Hungry is working through a local partner called ‘World Renew,' and they're working in Mali with the people who've been displaced by the fighting. They're working in a community that has people fleeing to it, away from the conflict."
The United Nations estimates that roughly 1.5 million people are at risk of epidemics due to weak water and sanitation facilities. The most vulnerable people already struggling to survive in the most remote areas feel forgotten. But, Howard explains, "In the area that we're working with World Renew, our partner, is one of the only organizations in there. So it's a real need, and God has given them a niche to really serve people who are on the edge, who actually fled the fighting where al-Qaeda had come through. They fled with (really) only the shirts on their backs.
"Along with this partner, we have set up a feeding program where over 2200 people are being fed. This is really being led by the local community that sees the need of all of these people fleeing into their area, and trying to feed them."
Militant groups linked to al-Qaeda have begun to leave their mark: most visibly, it's seen in the number of people who are missing hands. Fear is the less noticeable sign. The plight of these people is distressing. Howard says, "Pray for peace because unless there's peace, there could be thousands more people displaced by the fighting, which right now, have put over half the country in the conflict."
More displacements are expected across the country: the fighting and violence are likely to intensify over the next few weeks as more French and African troops are deployed. The closure of Algeria's border with Mali will prevent Malians wanting to take refuge there from doing so, and Mauritania has also increased its military presence along its border.
Howard says they're trying to meet the ever-growing needs of the refugees. "With a conflict like this, food isn't the only need. Other things such as blankets or health items can become really important as well as issues of protection of women and children."
The mounting response costs money. It's hard to budget with the unknown of the duration of the conflict or what else could befall a refugee community. A ballpark guess? "We're talking significant funding needs: $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 dollars, depending on how many people we continue to serve, who are fleeing from the conflict."
The insurgent chaos threatens everything around it, mirroring the most recent decade of Somalia. However, despite the difficulty in making contingency plans for that possibility, Howard says, "If Mali goes into a ‘Failed State' status, Food for the Hungry will continue to partner with local organizations there. The beauty of working with local organizations and the local church is even if the State fails, the Church doesn't fail. The Church will be there."
Still, sharing the Gospel in an extremist Muslim area is not smart, at least not in the traditional sense. The more effective avenue of opening doors to Christ, notes Howard, is in the simple act of service. "As Food for the Hungry partners with World Renew and the locals in Mali, we're doing it motivated by the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. Our hope is that people will see their true Creator through the actions of our partner and those serving in the name of Christ."
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