EU Aid Chief Warns Of Humanitarian Disaster In Northern Mali

Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, has warned that unless there is rapid progress in the coming days to open the humanitarian space and allow in supplies of food and medicines to northern Mali, there will be a major humanitarian disaster which could spill over to neighboring countries.

The European Commission announced on Wednesday an additional EUR 9 million to respond to the new humanitarian needs in northern Mali, but fighting and insecurity are hindering aid delivery to those most in need.

The funding comes on top of the over EUR 280 million which the Commission has mobilized to address the food crisis that is affecting eight countries of the West Africa region. Mali is one of the worst-affected with 1.4 million people now in need of emergency food assistance.

Violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people either within northern Mali (the estimated number of internally displaced persons exceeds 100,000) or over the borders in neighboring States, mostly Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso (around 136,000 refugees in total). Those who remain in their homes have diminishing access to basic services and goods and are exposed to attacks and human rights abuses.

Georgieva says many among the displaced are already on the edge of survival due to the Sahel food crisis. She expressed concern that the recent violence would exacerbate further the food emergency both in northern Mali and in neighboring countries where refugees were flowing to areas of acute food insecurity. "This is why the Commission is stepping up our humanitarian aid to those forced to flee the conflict," she said.

Since the European Union's capacity to respond quickly to the growing needs is limited by insecurity, Georgieva called upon "all parties involved in the fighting to respect the rights of civilians and International Humanitarian Law and to give unhindered access for humanitarian workers to those in need."

The new emergency aid funding aims to scale up the delivery of food, medicines, water and sanitation to the most vulnerable displaced civilians in northern Mali and in neighboring countries. It will be channeled through U.N. agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and international NGOs.

Since January, fighting in northern Mali has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. Last month, following violence and political upheaval in the country's capital Bamako, the European Commission suspended all bi-lateral development aid to Mali that flows through the government. However, the Commission's humanitarian aid continues direct to the populations in need despite the growing challenges.

Meanwhile, Mali is struggling with a chronic malnutrition problem, exacerbated by the 2011 drought which caused a food crisis throughout the Sahel region.

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