Sahel: risk is high that humanitarian situation will worsen
GENEVA, Switzerland, October 25, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- "However the armed conflict in northern Mali unfolds, the risk of a further worsening in the humanitarian situation in the region and throughout the Sahel is high," warned the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, at the end of a three-day on-site visit. "In particular, in the event of military deployments and renewed hostilities in the north of Mali there would inevitably be consequences for the population, and we have to be ready to respond," said Mr Maurer after going to Niamey and Agadez, in Niger, where the ICRC carries out most of its humanitarian work in the region, and to Bamako and Mopti in Mali.
"People in the north of Mali, those who moved southward, and all those who fled the conflict to seek refuge and assistance in neighbouring countries such as Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Algeria are particularly in need of help," said Mr Maurer. "Their ability to cope with their daily struggles is already greatly diminished. They need food and better access to clean drinking water and health care."
In Niamey, the ICRC president took part in a distribution of food to over 4,000 people who had arrived from the north of Mali. "The words of a father who had fled with his seven children were especially striking. He told me that as long as the situation remained unstable he would not be able to go home. The families that I met have suffered greatly and been weakened by the successive food crises and by the fighting of recent months."
In Mopti, Mr Maurer met displaced families, some of whom had recently been reunited, and opened a newly refurbished health-care centre of the Mali Red Cross.
With the Niger and Mali authorities, President Maurer discussed the cumulative effects, in humanitarian terms, of the conflict in the northern part of Mali and of the recurring food crises of the past few years. He reiterated the ICRC's commitment to help the people affected, particularly in the north of Mali where the organization is carrying out a vast operation to provide food and medical aid.
Mr Maurer also visited the Kati detention centre near Bamako, where the ICRC recently built a dispensary and renovated kitchens in order to improve living conditions for detainees. "It is particularly important at this time that we be able to visit all detainees in Mali," he said.
"Now more than ever, it is necessary that humanitarian activities that are neutral and independent be carried out in this region. The ICRC, which always adheres scrupulously to these principles, is well positioned to perform such a function," said Mr Maurer. "Because the acceptance of the ICRC by the various actors on the ground enables us to carry out large-scale activities, I once again call on donors to commit more resources to helping the people in the Sahel and to backing our humanitarian work there."
During his visit, President Maurer also met with leaders of the Red Cross Society of Niger and the Mali Red Cross, both of which are key partners of the ICRC, and to show support for staff on the ground in a context characterized by many challenges, including those relating to security.