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Food crisis in Mali: a little help goes a long way

Save the Children prides itself on working in some of the most remote communities around the world, providing assistance to those not mentioned in the news headlines.

As I watch our health staff methodically checking the line of children for signs of malnutrition in this remote health post in south-west Mali, I really see this to be true.

A food crisis is raging across Mali – with 4.6 million people affected. That’s more than the total population of Ireland.

In response, Save the Children is rapidly scaling up its work. Supporting this community health outpost is just one aspect our assistance.

Off the beaten track

We’re a long way off the beaten track. It took over five hours to reach this region from Bamako, the capital city. Then another hour across parched bush land to reach this health outpost.

Here mothers can access basic healthcare for their families. They can prevent some of the main killers of children – diarrhoea, malaria, respiratory infections and malnutrition.

It’s clearly a well-known service. Mothers arrive on the allocated day and on time. They’re familiar with the process and wait patiently for their turn.

Constant threat

In Mali, different seasons bring different problems. The rains bring malaria. The following months signal diarrhoeal diseases.  And the winter brings colds and crippling respiratory infections.

Malnutrition used to be one of these seasonal trends. Now it’s constant. This year 175,000 children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition.


While we’re observing the well-ordered process, I meet Miame. She’s four years old and has been suffering from a fever for over a week.

When Miame’s mother presents her to the nurse at the health post the news isn’t good. As the nurse wraps the simple measuring tape around her arm, she declares her to be moderately malnourished. She’s immediately referred to the health centre – the next level of healthcare.

All the women tell me that this health post makes all the difference to their lives. It’s clear that without this grassroots service, children like Miame wouldn’t be able to access basic healthcare or be referred to the health  centre.

However, this food crisis has devastated people’s livelihoods. If a child is referred to the next level of care, many families find it almost impossible to afford the travel and the costs incurred during a stay in a clinic that can last weeks.

Only a small amount of money could pay for children like Miame to get the help she desperately needs.

Too weak to plough the fields

Animals are often families’ main asset here in rural Mali. But increasing numbers of animals are dying as a result of the lack of food and water.

A village elder explains to me that many of their animals were so weak they were unable to pull a plough. It meant families were unable to capitalise on the rains and faced a crippling second failed harvest.

We’re tackling this head on. Last week we distributed vouchers that allow families to purchase high-quality animal fodder.

Families credit this assistance with keeping their animals alive. And their animals now have the energy to plough the fields – providing hope for this year’s harvest and the prospect of food.

Hope amid hardship

Grinding poverty is often a reality for the people of Mali. And with the recent political upheaval and armed activity in the north there are huge challenges ahead.

But I’ve come away encouraged by the energy of our staff. And with the knowledge that just a little help can go a long way to helping save the lives of children like Miame.

Written by Mike Penrose, Humanitarian Director, Save the Children


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