Intense fighting in Mali has forced Handicap International to temporarily suspend operations in the country.
The organization, which has been distributing aid in northern Mali since summer 2012, asked its teams to take shelter and prepare to resume its civilian support programs as soon as possible. Last week saw an uptick in fighting between Malian army, supported by France, and a loose alliance of Islamist militant groups, which have occupied much of the northern part of the country since last July.
“We had to suspend our work on January 9, and we are, of course, extremely worried about people in the area, who were already living in very difficult conditions, and who no longer have access to humanitarian aid,” says Marc Vaernewyck, director of Handicap International's Mali program. “While it is essential that the current conflict avoids inflicting suffering on the civilian population, these operations must also allow for the resumption of the humanitarian aid effort as soon as possible.”
Even before the military intervention, nearly 200,000 people had already fled their homes to makeshift camps following the Islamist takeover. Without the means to earn a living, the displaced have depended on humanitarian aid to survive.
Handicap International fears that continued fighting may lead to further population displacements to neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger. The organization, which is already present in both of these countries, is preparing for this eventuality.
Currently, Handicap International is planning to resume its activities in the region of Mopti in Mali as soon as possible, and to begin assessing the needs of the most vulnerable people, especially people with disabilities.
Before suspending its activities, Handicap International teams also led educational sessions to teach civilians about the risks of explosive remnants of war. “Our prevention work is vital,” says Vaernewyck. “Last year, 52 people in the region, including 31 children, were injured by landmines or explosive remnants such as grenades and unexploded shells. This is why we need to resume our efforts as quickly as possible and rapidly extend our fields of action wherever the security situation allows.”