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Mali: access to drinking water still a major concern in the north

27-07-2012 Operational Update

The ICRC is working to supply clean drinking water, especially in areas where outbreaks of cholera have recently been reported. It is also striving to improve living conditions for detainees and to bring aid to needy people.

While the spread of cholera has been contained in the vicinity of the city of Gao, the risk of the disease flaring up again remains high, especially in towns and villages along the Niger river. "Any new outbreak would be a disaster, given the dysfunctional state in which many referral health-care centres find themselves due to the massive departure of skilled staff as a result of the conflict," said Jean-Nicolas Marti, the head of the ICRC's regional delegation for Mali and Niger.

"In most villages, the hand pumps and wells are no longer working for lack of maintenance and spare parts. This places an extra strain on the limited number of pumps still functioning. As a result, a great many people are having to use water from the river," explained Mr Marti.

The rainy season currently under way will only add to the risk of cholera spreading and of further cases of malaria and diarrhoeal diseases, as most riverside villages and fishing camps have limited access to clean drinking water.

Once the river was identified as a probable source of contamination, the ICRC embarked on a rapid assessment of access to potable water. "It became clear that it was necessary to finish work on a second borehole in the village of Wabaria (near the city of Gao), where the cholera was first detected, by equipping it with a pump," said Mr Marti. "Now that the borehole has been completed, the strain on the other pump has been considerably relieved and people are taking less water from the river." In addition, groups of people have been trained to raise awareness in villages and camps along the river of the danger posed by contaminated water.

The ICRC is monitoring information concerning any new cases of cholera occurring elsewhere in northern Mali or in neighbouring Niger.

Improving living conditions for detainees

The conflict in northern Mali and political instability in Bamako have contributed to the increasing need for protection and assistance in places of detention. In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC is visiting detainees and monitoring the conditions in which they are being held. It is stepping up its efforts to improve nutrition, access to health care and hygiene for detainees and opportunities for them to stay in touch with family members. Attention is also being given to the issue of the duration of pre-trial detention. At the civilian prison in Kati, near Bamako, the ICRC set up leisure areas for the inmates, renovated kitchens and built an infirmary with an examination room, a bed ward and a dispensary.

Restoring contact between family members

Population displacement within Mali and in neighbouring countries has also resulted in the dispersal of family members and in some cases the complete loss of contact between them. The ICRC is attempting to find the relatives, for example, of more than 30 children who arrived unaccompanied in the Tillabéry area of Niger from Mali. In the Mopti area of Mali, there are several displaced persons want to be able to contact their loved ones.

To meet these needs, the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross are going to step up their activities aimed at enhancing and supporting the exchange of news between members of families that have been split apart and to reunite them wherever possible.

Bringing aid to needy people

Since 14 July, in cooperation with the Mali Red Cross, the ICRC has been carrying out a major distribution of food to the people hardest hit by the combined effects of the violence and the food crisis in northern Mali. Initially, over 160,000 of the neediest people will benefit. In addition, rice and sorghum seed will be supplied to around 42,000 people in the Gao, Timbuktu and Mopti areas to support agricultural production.

Helping Malian refugees in Mauritania

Since 18 July, the ICRC and the Mauritanian Red Crescent have been distributing essential household items, such as blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and kitchen sets, to over 72,000 Malians in the M'berra camp, in southern Mauritania near the border with Mali. The ICRC will also provide waterproof tarpaulins.


For further information, please contact:
Germain Mwehu, ICRC Niamey, tel: +227 97 45 43 82 or +223 76 99 63 75
Bijan Frederic Farnoudi, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 21 80 or +41 79 536 92 59


Photos

Kidal, north-eastern Mali. People collecting water at a well. 

Kidal, north-eastern Mali. People collecting water at a well.
© Reuters

Mopti, northern Mali. A truck that will carry people fleeing to the south is being loaded. 

Mopti, northern Mali. A truck that will carry people fleeing to the south is being loaded.
© Reuters

Bagoundjé, near Gao, northern Mali. A beneficiary loads his cart following an ICRC distribution of food and essential items. 

Bagoundjé, near Gao, northern Mali. A beneficiary loads his cart following an ICRC distribution of food and essential items.
© ICRC / M. Douma / ml-e-00029

People arriving with their goods at the displaced shelter in Bagoundjé, near Gao, after an ICRC distribution of food and jerrycans of oil. 

People arriving with their goods at the displaced shelter in Bagoundjé, near Gao, after an ICRC distribution of food and jerrycans of oil.
© ICRC / M. Douma / ml-e-00031