Thursday, January 17, 2013

The struggle to live in Mali

While world media attention is focused on the French military intervention to thwart militant Islamist rebels, it is easy to overlook that for most Malians, to just stay alive is, in itself, an everyday struggle.

The country’s birthrate and infant mortality rate are the second highest in the world. Infant mortality exceeds 10 percent. Life expectancy at birth is among the shortest in the world.

With climate change and the Sahara desert creeping ever southward, life for rural and nomadic populations in the north is getting worse; even at the best of times. Drought is now a common reality. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about a quarter of the population faces severe food insecurity.

The current conflict makes the misery worse. Very often the popular response is flight–to anywhere else. Oxfam estimates that 30,000 so far have fled since the French began their campaign last week. They join some 345,000 previously internally and externally displaced persons due to the ongoing unrest. The Catholic Information Service for Africa estimates that the number of displaced persons could reach 700,000. Already it estimates that about a third of Mali’s population of more than fifteen million is affected by the interrelated crises involving food availability, nutrition, and military conflict. This extreme privation plays a major, if often hidden, role in refugee flows and the availability of children to fight as soldiers as the only means of obtaining a meal.

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