Mali’s conflict may create another man-made famine

By July 5, 2012

Mali (MNN) — Mali is becoming a haven for terrorist
groups-in-training.  

The vast desert wastelands are perfect for hiding al-Qaeda
followers and already host to the Tuareg rebels. 

Political instability and continued fighting following a coup in
March deepened another crisis. As many as 18 million people in Africa's Sahel
region face the renewed prospect of severe food shortage caused by drought.

It's not far from becoming another man-made famine like that
of Somalia. The loss of crops resulted in high food prices, displacement and chronic
poverty. The situation was further
worsened by the violence and extremism in Mali that created an influx of Malian
refugees in Burkina Faso. 

As a result, according to the TEAR fund NZ, famine is almost
unavoidable. Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, explains, "I think there almost
more than 200,000 refugees–Malians outside of the country like in Burkina,
Niger, Algeria–that are in need of help."

If immediate action is not taken, families will be running
out of grain, food prices will be increasing, and livestock will be endangered.
"It's a particularly difficult area
to help because of the armed conflict that's going on in the country right now.
I think there are about 150,000 Internally Displaced People(IDP), which are
the hardest to get to because of the conflict."

BGR is responding rapidly to avoid a large-scale famine. Palmer
notes that while most of the food can be purchased locally, "The problem is distribution. We
approved, a couple of months ago, about a $360,000 food assistance project." The team was trying to get to IDPs inside Mali
but, "unfortunately, because of the armed conflict, our partners on the ground
who do the distribution had to pull out."

The only hope many people in the Sahel have is that people
who care will respond to their need, said Palmer. They issued an appeal for funds in the World
Hunger Fund (a partner to BGR), and the monies are trickling in. Southern Baptists responded with an
initiative that will provide a six-month ration of grain and peanuts to help
two villages with a combined population of about 3,000.  

What it means is that "even though we had to delay it
for a number of weeks, we were able to start it back up and have some great stories
coming out of Mali–we were able to get food to IDPs in country. We're about to
finish up the first leg of that project and are getting ready to start another
one."

Palmer offers another perspective on the silver lining for
the refugees they're helping in the camps. "Actually, in some ways, those
who make it out of the country that are refugees, some of them have it a little
bit better because they're in a safer area where they can get to U.N. sources
of food and NGO sources of food. The IDPs are a little bit more trapped because
they can't get out and they're trying to deal with trying to find the food."

In coordination with local leaders, three distributions will
be conducted in each village over the course of four to six months.  

In the most recent distribution, six truckloads of grain
delivered to two different villages. Palmer
shares this story from the team:

The
last night in the village, we were called to the public square for more dancing and drumming. It was a very
special night.

We
got back to the hosts' home at about 11:30 pm, all of us quite tired and ready
for bed. Just 10 minutes later though, the traditional singers and drummers
came into the yard. They had followed us back to dance and sing more. The song they sang, though, was the sweetest:
"Who brought us corn? Who brought us peanuts? Who brought us millet? Jesus did!"

An open door for the future? Definitely. Palmer says, "People who were hungry were ministered
to in the name of Christ. When you help 'the least of these,' it's as if you
did it 'unto Him.' Here was the whole community, not followers of Jesus, but
praising God and giving thanks to Jesus that they had received food."  

BGR, with the help of the World Hunger Fund, is making some  difference, especially to those who are
trapped inside Mali. "By the time
the next project goes through, we will have, in the last couple of months, put
in about a half million dollars' worth of food into the area. It's still a drop
in the bucket, but it's a good drop–especially in some of the areas that
people aren't getting services."

Palmer urges believers to not only pray for rain, but also
to "pray for wisdom and knowledge for our teams on the ground. Pray that
doors will be opened as they get into those critical areas. Pray that we'll be
wise stewards of what we have." They're answering an overwhelming need, but
many will be hungry tonight in Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. 

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