Rebels in Northern Mali Threaten Region’s Stability

The slow and steady recovery that Mali experienced after the extended Islamist occupation by the Tuaregs in the north was recently thrown into jeopardy. A handful of recent clashes between separatist rebels and government forces have begun to increase insecurity and hamper the effectiveness of aid efforts in the area.

What’s worse is that parts of the country have even fallen back into rebel hands.

While some displaced people have begun returning to their homes in the north, many still worry about their safety and security. Some of those who have returned even had to flee again due to rebel activity in their community.

“Tensions within communities and concerns of retribution mean people do not feel safe to return home,” said Erin Weir, Protection and advocacy advisor with the Norwegian Refugee Council. “That the constant power shifts – one day an area belongs to the rebels, the other day it is back in government hands – means people might feel secure one minute, the next they are inclined to flee again.”

This ongoing crisis with rebels in Northern Mali is often ignored by the public as other issues receive more coverage from media outlets. Yet, staff members of the Red Cross were attacked in the area earlier this year, which resulted in the stoppage of food distribution to the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. This left 11 percent of the population, or 1.9 million people, in need of food assistance.

Similar attacks have also interrupted food distribution by the World Food Program.

Just under 250,000 people in the north are considered food insecure, and approximately two-thirds of those people are defined as in ‘crisis.’ This is only worsened by the fact that operations in Mali are underfunded by one-third.

“The recent fighting has set back the humanitarian situation and deepened the crisis,” Weir said. “Services in the north are still restricted and access to health care, education and markets are limited, not to mention food insecurity that is affected by recent displacement.”

While there are countless other humanitarian crises taking place around the world, the world cannot forget those that still haven’t been completely resolved.

While progress might be slow, the recent conflicts with rebels in Northern Mali only show how long and hard the road to recovery is. Further work is needed in order to ensure that the hard-won progress is not lost.

– Andre Gobbo
Sources: IRIN, The Economist, The Guardian
Photo: AlJazeera