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Child malnutrition in Northern Mali reaches emergency levels

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 5th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Medecins du Monde, or Doctors of the World, says that malnutrition rates among children under the age of five in occupied northern Mali are reaching "alarming levels." The Brussels-based aid organization says that since the African nation fell under the control of armed militant groups in April of this year, the needs of its child population has gone dangerously unmet.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The non-governmental agency says that it found that 13.5 percent of those children in the far northern Kidal region are suffering from acute malnutrition, double last year's rate and well over the World Health Organization's 10 percent alert threshold.

Olivier Vandecasteele, the group's Mali project coordinator, says that in the Kidal region, hundreds of children suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition, a condition that makes them much more vulnerable to otherwise treatable illnesses like diarrhea and malaria, coupled with serious effects on long-term growth and development. If nothing is done, he says, the number of cases could climb in the coming weeks.

The organization gathered the data during a vaccination campaign over the past three months in the regions of Kidal and Gao, and it was the first screening for malnutrition since the outbreak of the Mali conflict in January of this year.

The conflict has reduced already inadequate health services, and outside humanitarian access to the occupied territory remains difficult. The organization says it will begin handing out supplemental food to children under five years old, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers in the Kidal region.

Part of Africa's Sahel region, Mali is in the midst of a severe food crisis this year resulting from drought, poor harvests and high food prices.

The United Nations says the majority of the 4.6 million people at risk of food shortages in Mali are actually in the government-controlled south. The U.N. says 560,000 children under the age of five face moderate to severe acute malnutrition.

The herding communities of northern Mali are usually less affected by malnutrition and regional food shortages. The ongoing armed conflict there has since torn asunder this safety net.

Vandecasteele says these pastoral communities are typically raising animals, so they are eating more meat, more protein, on a regular basis than Malians in the south. The fighting has displaced people and has made it more difficult to access basic health and sanitation services, and meant that herders are being forced to abandon, sell or eat their livestock.

This, Vandecasteele says, will have consequences for years to come, making the pastoral communities more vulnerable to future food crises.

The international community is weighing a possible military intervention to take back northern Mali from the militants. This is held in check from concerns that more fighting will worsen the already precarious humanitarian situation.

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