Stéphane Vinhas, Chargé de programmes – Secours d’urgence
Au mois de janvier 2016, ma collègue Ann Dominique et moi-même avons eu la chance de nous rendre au Sahel, plus particulièrement au Mali et au Niger, afin de faire le suivi des projets mis en œuvre par Développement et Paix.
Two years after the serious humanitarian crisis that affected 16 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa, Development and Peace remains on alert. In 2013, the situation improved slightly, but the harvest was still not plentiful enough to fill the gaps, and the ongoing conflict in Mali continued to destabilize the population. Thousands of vulnerable families are still confronted with hunger and growing poverty.
Last week, Development and Peace sponsored a series of premieres of the new Salt and Light documentary A New Leaf, which features the response of Development and Peace to the food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa, in five Canadian cities across the country.
This summer, I travelled to Niger and Mali to report on the food crisis that was gripping the Sahel region of West Africa, as well as the impact that political instability in Mali was having on the population. Accompanying me for the Niger part, was a crew from Salt and Light Television, who we had invited to come to document how the population was coping and our response. Together, we visited villages where the threat of hunger was a daily struggle. We also visited a refugee camp for Malians fleeing the violence in their own country. We could see the despondency of the people in the camp, having been completely uprooted from their homes and without any real idea as to when they would be able to return, if ever. It was a journey of discovery for all of us, and I was anxious to see how this story would be told in the documentary.
The ongoing conflict in Mali is the result of a complex series of events in which each player has defended their own interests. Secessionist ambitions, control of natural resources, the imposition of sharia, are all claims raised by a variety of national and international actors. After launching a military offensive in early January 2013, French troops supported by African troops have now taken control of almost the entire territory, but the instability persists.
According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 7,500 Malians have fled their country in the last two weeks. The intensification of fighting has compelled entire families, some of them in car or truck, others on foot or on the backs of donkeys, to seek refuge in neighbouring countries (mainly in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania).
The French military intervention currently taking place in Mali has been making headlines. Although supported by the vast majority of Malians, it also carries with it the risk of worsening the humanitarian situation for the population, especially for those in the North. The 200,000 people still living in this area are now even more affected by the state of emergency, as declared by President Dioncounda Traoré. "I fear for the people of the North today. We know that this population is in a very precarious situation.
Over 18 million people are suffering from food shortages in the Sahel region of West Africa and Development and Peace is helping. To learn more about our response with our partners in the region, watch On the Brink: Hunger in the Sahel, a new video produced in collaboration with Salt+Light TV.
On my last day in Mali, I went to visit a centre in Bamako that is hosting 16 displaced families (98 people) who have fled the North of the country due to conflict there. Rebel groups have taken over several cities and have declared independence of this northern region, which stretches out towards the desert. In addition, some of the rebel groups are transforming the territory into an Islamic fundamentalist state by imposing sharia law. They have desecrated churches and even destroyed ancient mosques that they view as idolatrous.