Seven months after French and Malian troops led an intervention against armed groups in Mali, displaced Malians are still suffering the consequences of the conflict. Handicap International, which has been working in Mali since 1996, continues to support emergency relief operations which it initially launched in 2012. Helene Robin, Handicap International’s Emergency Response Manager in Mali, answers questions about the ongoing crisis and what the organization is doing to help the most vulnerable Malians.
Why is there still a need for an emergency response in Mali?
Following the intervention of French and Malian troops earlier this year and the rapid retreat of the armed groups which had occupied the north of the country, Mali no longer makes the headlines. However, the situation facing hundreds of thousands of Malians has not fundamentally changed. In many regions, security is not good, and for many people who are still displaced from their homes or taking refuge abroad, the situation worsens every day because they cannot find work or housing or count on the support of their communities.
The regions which currently have the largest number of displaced people have very few resources and it is important to improve access to health services, re-launch the agricultural economy, alert people to the presence of weapons and unexploded devices, and conduct weapons clearance in areas contaminated by explosive remnants of war so that people can return to their homes. Psychological support also needs to be provided on a large-scale to assist displaced families who are finding the situation difficult to cope with, to reduce the risk of isolation for certain people, and to facilitate reconciliation between communities divided by the conflict. Tuaregs, for example, are often put in the same category as the armed groups which occupied the north of the country, and are sometimes stigmatized by the rest of the population.
What is Handicap International’s priority in Mali today?
Our aim is to provide assistance in every field possible. We’re performing demining activities and providing the local population with risk education on weapons and explosive remnants of war, organizing an emergency response in aid of vulnerable people living in areas with large numbers of displaced people, and providing assistance to develop the Malian health system, with a focus on mother and child health. We have even joined forces with the United Nations World Food Program to distribute food, and we are continuing to distribute agricultural necessities. Once again, for us, it’s essential to enable people who have suffered food shortages and displacements due to the presence of armed groups, and the tensions they have created, to regain a degree of stability.
What’s the next step?
The people of Mali will need help for many years to come. Handicap International has been present in this country for 17 years and has implemented several major development projects, particularly in the south of the country, which will gradually be resumed in the north. We need to take every available opportunity to recreate the conditions favorable to the return of people to these regions in the north. This means providing the inhabitants of these regions with minimum access to food, but also with care services and a peaceful social environment. The work we are performing, mainly in aid of displaced people at the moment, should be extended to the north as soon as possible.