Responding to a growing crisis in Mali

By February 5, 2013

Mali (MNN) — The war zone in Mali is completely cut off from the outside world. As a result, the humanitarian crisis in one of the world's poorest countries has hardly registered.

Four months ago, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spoke of a "forgotten crisis," and it's only gotten worse since then. Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, explains, "You have warring factions from the north, rebels that are coming in–fighting the government, catching civilians, and people and folks who are really trying to take care of their families, and they're being caught in the crossfire. "

As a result, there are an estimated 230,000 displaced people inside Mali and over 150,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Algeria. The problem is that those countries are already overtaxed. All three are trying to recover from the Sahel region drought and food shortage. Further destabilization is possible should the conflict in Mali spill over its borders.

International focus came once France got involved, and the story began gaining traction. However, by this time, security has devolved so much that aid workers can't travel freely in the country, and northern Mali remains out of bounds. Palmer adds, "Unfortunately, in this area, it's hard to get to really affected areas, so most of our team members right now were all the way back down to the capital area. We're working with the IDPs that are coming there, so we've actually had to pull our people back."

BGR's situation mirrors that of many other Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and aid groups in that area. According to the UNHCR, living conditions for the internally displaced in the south are precarious. Families lacking the means to rent houses are sleeping in the open, on roof terraces. Children, in particular, are suffering from the cold at night and are prone to coughing and respiratory diseases, as they are exposed to wind and wind-blown sand.

There isn't enough food for people. Borders have closed, and because roads have been closed or destroyed by the conflict, new supplies can't get in; and that leaves the markets empty. Looting has begun, and other infrastructure has also been disrupted. While multi billions were pledged in global aid, only half of what was promised came in.

Oxfam is warning that the already dire situation for tens of thousands of Malians could get much worse. It's a frustrating situation to be in, says Palmer. "Inside the country now, we're really more restricted to those safer areas. It IS sad. It's hard, knowing that there are people who are suffering. Our partners that are doing the response really want to be up in the harder-hit areas, but we have to make the decision for the safety of our personnel. "

Rather than focus on what they can't do, though, Palmer says their partners are keeping busy doing what they CAN. "We are able to touch a few on the outer edges that come out of the country, like into Niger. We've got some projects going on, some plastic mats, blankets, mosquito nets, five-gallon buckets, soap, and (hygiene kits) and food parcels that we're distributing."

Please pray for BGR teams as distribution is quite a process. "Pray for wisdom and knowledge. Pray for them to find the divine opportunities that are there. Pray for them to have divine connections to the people that are most in need, that we can get to. Pray for safety. "

Pray that they speak clearly when communicating with the villagers. Palmer says those they helped really didn't care much who they were, but they cared that they were people who cared about them. "Pray for the people who are losing family members. Pray for those who are losing everything that they have. Pray that they would be physically and spiritually touched by our ministries."

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