International Medical Corps is sending an emergency response team to Mali and Mauritania to assess humanitarian needs resulting from intensifying conflict between armed rebels and the government in Mali. Widespread displacement, high levels of hunger and worsening humanitarian conditions are anticipated.
On January 10, armed Islamist groups controlling northern Mali began moving south and took over the city of Konna, triggering intervention by the French army. Hundreds of French soldiers poured into Mali as the French army carried out airstrikes to take back control of Konna. Meantime, ground combat appears imminent, with both the French and Malian armies encircling the village of Diabaly—seized by Islamist fighters three days ago—which is located about 250 miles from Mali’s capital, Bamako.
Rebel groups in northern Mali have staged uprisings against the government since the early 1990s. Last March, President Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted in a coup, effectively splitting the country in two, with well-armed Islamists controlling the three northern regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
Violence in 2012 caused more than 460,000 people to flee their homes, many of them fleeing across the border into Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. The United Nations estimates that more than 8,700 people have been newly displaced since January 10, adding to the estimated 228,920 already displaced, and thousands more could flee as result of international military intervention. Approximately 1,440 new Malian refugees have arrived in neighboring countries since January 10; eighty percent of those arriving in Mauritania have been women and children.
Sanitation, shelter, health and food security conditions have deteriorated significantly over the past nine months, creating a humanitarian situation that will likely worsen as intensified violence displaces additional civilians. According to UNICEF, 4.6 million Malians already experience severe hunger, with 175,000 children at risk of severe malnutrition. The majority of humanitarian needs are in the south, where 3 million people face a hunger crisis, and where health services and schools have been overwhelmed by the influx of northerners. Meanwhile, most schools are closed in the north, where children remain at risk of recruitment by rebels, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.
International Medical Corps is closely monitoring the situation in Mali as well as in neighboring countries and coordinating with humanitarian partners to assess conditions on the ground.