25 January 2013 - Since the start of the military intervention in Mali's Gao region two weeks ago, the population's access to food supplies across the region has deteriorated significantly. According to our team on the ground, the local economy is in a downward spiral and residents are in survival mode. Our experts are also increasingly concerned that a potential armed intervention from Niger will further decrease access to food and humanitarian supplies across northern Mali.
Following the recent closure of the Algeria-Mali border, an already isolated Gao has seen severe restrictions in the flow of goods as key commercial routes between Mopti and Gao shut down. The only open supply route remains on the river and roads between Gao and Niger, and we fear that Nigerís planned armed intervention will cut off this last supply path for food, medicine and other essentials to enter Mali.
Mali faces routine shortfalls in agricultural production, so the combination of poor harvests last month and the current political insecurity has proved disastrous. The majority of Gao-based traders have moved their goods to towns and villages outside the main cities as a precaution. Three-quarters of all shops in the city of Gao were closed yesterday, and most markets deserted by farmers who moved their herds away for fear their livestock would be stolen. In addition, many traders and buyers stayed home, fearing for their safety.
Food prices have been increasing steadily in Gao for the past nine months; the region has seen a price increase of 38% on millet, 31% on rice and 25% on cooking oil. The past few weeks have made much food completely unattainable, and households are stockpiling what they can, depleting stocks even faster than expected. The banking system in Gao has been crippled since April of 2012, and liquidity simply does not exist.
The potential closure of the last remaining entry point poses a serious threat to access to much needed food and humanitarian supplies -- not to mention the likelihood of increased violence, banditry, and looting that could accompany another ground intervention. Action Against Hunger, along with other humanitarian organisations in Gao, have had to adapt to the hightened insecurity by decreasing telecommunications activities, and restricting existing programmes to the regionís main cities of Ansongo Bourem, Gao, and Menaka. We wonít be able to resume travel to remote areas until hostilities cease and a climate of greater security is restored.
Still, our team spent the past week securing stocks of water purification tablets from Niger, and we are continuing our work treating individuals suffering from acute malnutrition. Weíve retained large stocks of nutritional products and are confident that our treatment efforts can continue. With over 15% of the region's children under five suffering from acute malnutrition (nearly 20,000 children), our priority remains delivering urgent care to the most vulnerable as efficiently as possible. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will scale up our response as soon as security conditions allow.