Mali: Children at risk as conflict escalates
French air strikes continue against militant rebels that have controlled northern Mali since last April. The attacks, which began last week, are in advance of a military initiative by an African coalition, says French President François Hollande.
Humanitarian organizations estimate that 5 million Malians are affected by the conflict and resulting food shortages and inadequate nutrition.
About 400,000 people have been displaced by fighting, and aid groups say the number could reach 700,000.
“Children are especially vulnerable when military operations are launched. Those who would like to flee need a guaranteed safe passage out,” says Chance Briggs, national director of World Vision’s office in Mali.
“Last year was a particularly difficult year for children around the country, and the ongoing conflict in the north threatens them further,” Chance says. “It would be intolerable to see more children separated from their parents, displaced from their homes, or cramped in refugee camps for weeks on end, not knowing where to go next or when they will be able to begin rebuilding their lives.”
Mali enjoyed two decades of democratic rule until the growing rebel insurgency led to a military coup in March 2012, leaving the former French colony with a weakened government.
Governments committing resources to the offensive in the north have a responsibility to ensure children and their families are protected during the conflict and that humanitarian organizations like World Vision can get help through, Chance says.
Justin Douglass is a World Vision communications officer based in Mali.
Photo: Reuters/Joe Penney, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet