My heart is breaking, and I'm crying out to God
to use me to make a difference to reach these people with the love
of Christ, bringing complete salvation for body, soul and spirit.
I do know that once we've got the car, we're called to go into the
villages, and I do know that God is preparing everything right now.
By the way, when my friend Cliff Pash comes to Mali in November,
we ARE going to Timbuktu for a week - an area that is hard-hit.
BAMAKO, 20 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Food prices are soaring and precious
cattle are dying in Mali as a result of drought and locust damage
to crops and pasture.
The government has called for urgent food aid to help 1.1 million
vulnerable people, most of whom live on the southern fringes of
the Sahara desert.
But aid officials say the international response from donors has
far been disappointing.
And the French charity Action Against Hunger (ACF) has warned that
conflict over scarce water and pasture could soon break out between
local farmers and nomadic herdsmen, many of whom have driven their
cattle into eastern Mali from neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
A government study conducted earlier this year concluded that those
at risk of famine lived in 101 administrative districts situated
along the 15th parallel and in the semi-arid lands to the north
of this line running from Kayes in the west, through Mopti on the
Niger river in central Mali to Gao, near the eastern border with
"Unless bold decisions are taken quickly, the nutritional
state of the population will deteriorate," Mary Diallo, director
of the government's early warning unit, told IRIN.
"We reckon there is already a malnutrition rate of more than
40 percent in the north of the country," he said, adding that
the European Union had agreed to finance a new study of conditions
Oxfam is also sounding alarm bells about the situation in the remote
region north of the Niger bend, where it aims to help 50,000 people
Nick Ireland, an Oxfam official based at the organisation's regional
headquarters in Dakar, said: "In the north we found quite shocking
signs of malnutrition and we are urging Action Contre La Faim (ACF)
and the (UN)World Food Programme to go there and make their own
Ireland said isolated herding communities had clustered around
remote wells in a desperate bid to save their animals, unaware of
the possibility of outside food assistance.
Oxfam reported in May that infant mortality had reached record
levels among the pastoralist communities of northern Mali.
"One family in five has lost a child in the last six months,"
Food shortages are a perennial problem in impoverished Mali, where
subsistence farmers typically endure a belt-tightening lean period
from July until the new harvest starts in September at the end of
the rainy season.
But this year is shaping up to be particularly difficult and the
lean season has struck early.
The Agriculture Ministry estimated in March that grain production
fell to 2.8 million tonnes last year from 3.3 million in 2003.
And Diallo, at the early warning unit in the president's office,
predicted that between 10 and 15 percent of Mali's cattle would
die this year from thirst or lack of pasture.
"We have a problem of overgrazing and food security in areas
such as the valley of the river Niger which has attracted cattle
and goats from Niger and Burkina Faso," he said. "These
herds are stuck there. They can't turn round and go home because
all the watering holes on the way have dried up."
ACF confirmed this. It said in a report made available to IRIN
that Peul and Tamasheq nomads had been bringing large herds of zebu
cattle into the Gourma region of southeastern Mali since December.
Gourma region lies to the south of Timbuktu and Gao on the Niger
river and is bordered to the south by Burkina Faso and to the east
"It is certain that a significant number of these animals
will die and that conflicts can be envisaged," ACF warned.
"It is unlikely that the areas they have gone into will be
able to provide water and pasture for all these animals, which number
several hundred thousand."
Reflecting ACF's fears that conflicts could develop with local
Malian communities, Diallo warned of a "a large-scale crisis"
unless these nomads returned soon to their countries of origin.
But Pedro Recalde, the representative of the UN World Food Programme
(WFP) in Mali, said the situation could still be saved by good early
rainfall. "If the rains are abundant, the grass will grow and
the reappearance of pasture will allow the herds to move,"
Diallo said an early end to the rainy season last year had stunted
Mali's pastures and prevented the Niger river and its tributaries
from bursting their banks and innundating the flood plains where
rice is normally planted.
"The locusts did less damage than the lack of rainfall,"
he said. "Grazing land didn't get enough moisture and rice
production, which usually amounts to about 900,000 tonnes per year,
The Inter-State Committee for Fighting Drought in the Sahel (CILSS),
which undertakes annual crop assessments in West Africa in conjuction
with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and WFP, reported
in May that harvests in southern Mali were generally good last year
and that the nation as a whole should have a 422,000 tonne food
But soaring grain prices across the country tell a very different
Market traders in the capital Bamako say food prices have doubled
over the past 12 months.
A 100kg sack of millet - enough to feed an average family for three
weeks - now sells for 20,000 CFA francs (US $32), up from 10,000
($16)at the same time last year.
And rice has more than doubled in price to 500 CFA ($1) from 232
CFA (46 US cents) 12 months ago.
By the end of May, the government of Mali had distributed 18,000
tonnes of maize, millet and sorghum from its food reserves to feed
hungry people in the most needy areas. It distributed 9,000 tonnes
in May alone.
But Diallo warned that even allowing for financial reserves which
could be used to buy in more grain, there was simply not enough
left to go round.
WFP has appealed to donors for US $7.4 million to provide additional
food aid for Mali, but Recalde said that so far only $3.0 million
had been received.
This year's rainy season has begun well with several heavy downpours
in May and early June, but Diallo warned that any shortfall would
push the entire country into a food crisis.
"If we don't get good rains, we will be in an emergency situation
and people on the 12th, 13th and 14th parallels will be affected,"
ACF is particularly concerned about the present situation around
Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao in the northeast, where it reckons that
48 percent of last year's harvest was lost.
An ongoing crisis in nearby Cote d'Ivoire is also taking its toll
with many basic manufactured goods now too expensive for impoverished
Malians to buy.
"Cote d'Ivoire was the economic lung of Mali," said Recalde.
"Costs for many things have gone up 30 to 40 percent."
The southern port city of Abidjan was the main hub for imported
and exported goods across Francophone West Africa. But following
an attempted coup in September 2002, the country has been split
in two, disrupting trade routes.