Press Conference on Humanitarian Situation in Mali

26 February 2013

Press Conference on Humanitarian Situation in Mali

26 February 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



After a four-day trip to Mali, a top United Nations humanitarian official told reporters today at Headquarters that, although he had been there to coordinate the humanitarian response, “development is the solution” for the people of that West African country and humanitarian assistance only helped build the foundation for that solution.

“The first impression to convey is that people in the north are traumatized and they are in fear,” said John Ging, Operations Director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  His mission included visits to Bamako in the south and Mopti and Timbuktu in the north.

He said he had heard brutal stories, such as women being raped and violence committed against children.  But, at the same time, the people had demonstrated dignity and resilience, as they were determined not to depend on aid, but needed humanitarian assistance only to restore their livelihoods.

Mr. Ging cited three main areas in which the international community could help the Malian people.  First, agriculture, which required more seeds, tools and water pumping stations.  He reminded correspondents that Mali had already been hit by the wider Sahel food insecurity.  In the north of that country, 585,000 people were in need of immediate food assistance, with an additional 1 million at risk of food insecurity.  And 660,000 children nationwide were at risk of malnutrition in 2013.

Second, electricity.  The lack of electricity had also been highlighted as generating hardships, he said.  The third priority was education.  Some 700,000 school children had been affected, of which 200,000 had been without any education.  Most of the teachers had fled the conflict in the north.  Getting them back, repairing damaged schools and providing normal supplies was vital.  He had also visited two hospitals in Mopti and Timbuktu and witnessed shortages of basic supplies.

On the scale of displacement, he said 37,000 people had fled from north and central Mali since 11 January, bringing the total to 431,000 since the crisis erupted in January 2012.  Of them, 260,000 were internally displaced and 170,000 were refugees.

“In seeing and witnessing first hand the appalling plight of the people and listening to how horrendous it had been for them in this past year,” he said, “their preoccupation now must become our preoccupation, which is to focus on the way forward.”

Mr. Ging went on to urge donor partners to release funding promptly.  Of the $373 million appeal for 2013, only $17 million had been received.  Mali had been a centre of global media and political attention, but, unfortunately, funding had been poor.

Responding to a question about the root causes of the Malian crisis, he singled out political failure and the effect of climate change.  Many issues resulted from political failure, and when the effect of climate change hit, a country dependant on agriculture quickly fell into a difficult situation.

Asked to provide the breakdown of the $17 million funding, he said he did not have details, but they did not include in-kind contributions.  He reiterated that humanitarian funding had not been released on a scale anywhere near what was needed.

To a query about the security situation in Mopti and Timbuktu, he said it was stable, but there was still tension and the population was in fear.  People did not have confidence that the conflict was already behind them.  In addition to physical destruction, normal life had been destroyed, with education, trade and the economy non-existent in the north.

Asked what assistance was being delivered, he said food aid had been flowing, although its funding was still not at an adequate level.  The problem was that there had been no money for education, which was crucial to the future of Mali.  Children who had suffered trauma needed additional support.

On the return of displaced people, he said they did not feel that it was safe to return.  To create an enabling environment for their return, the provision of physical security and controlling the behaviour of the security forces were important.  People were afraid of reprisals by security forces.  The Government must ensure that security forces protect civilians and human rights.  In addition, the restoration of schools and health facilities also had an impact on people’s decision to return.

Asked to describe what he had seen at a hospital, he reiterated that people had been in fear and traumatized.  A man giving a briefing had been in tears.  He had also met a young boy whose limbs had been amputated.  Pressed further on that question, he said people feared the return of extremists and reprisals.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.