Malnutrition in Mali: A slow burn emergency
Mali is struggling to cope with a prolonged drought and food crisis that is affecting large areas of the Sahel region of West Africa. The crisis has been made worse by a spreading internal conflict. On World Food Day, the International Rescue Committee's Peter Biro reports on the worsening crisis and what the IRC is doing to help. Posted on October 16, 2012
[A doctor is seeing to infant patients in a small health center.]
TASHA GILL, IRC director, Mali and Niger: Mali has a chronic food and nutrition crisis that has been aggravated this year in 2012. The lean period, the hungry period you could call it, that usually starts in April, started early this year because of the drought last year. However, Mali’s case is particularly complicated because there’s not just the food and nutrition crisis that’s affecting all the Sahel region—there’s also a conflict going on. Starting in January an armed conflict began in the northern part of Mali; in March there was a coup d’état.
PETER BIRO: IRC workers are also training community members to recognize the symptoms of severe malnutrition so that they can get children like Jabadjieto the clinic for treatment before it’s too late. To help identify symptoms, such as a swollen abdomen, listlessness and excess fluids under the skin, the IRC uses a local theater group to get the message across. The actors visit villages and put on open-air skits in the evening, always attracting hundreds of men, women and children. Because of poverty and lack of education, parents often do not recognize the symptoms of malnutrition, or know where to go for treatment. Small and underdeveloped children are common, and sometimes the most severely malnourished children are beyond help when they’re finally brought to the health facilities. This year and the next, the IRC will treat over 8,000 children at health centers in Kati, as well as improving water and hygiene at community health centers serving thousands of people. Approximately 160,000 children will be screened for malnutrition, and their families informed on good child care and feeding. But there is still more to be done.
TASHA GILL: This crisis is still ongoing, and we’re afraid that we’re going to see it continue for quite some time. This is what I would call a “slow-burn emergency.” The food crisis and nutrition crisis in the Sahel is not going away.