Mali and Mauritania: War, Drought and School Meals

As the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says, “There has to be an African solution” to the crisis in Mali. The Malian government, backed by French forces, has been striking Al Qaeda-linked militants who had occupied the northern part of the country.

That solution, a lasting peace, will be hard to find if children are hungry, malnourished and not able to even attend school. Their future is being made in a country where hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the war. There was also a severe drought last year which placed even more burden on already impoverished families.

No food, no school. That is the reality in Mali as described by a UN World Food Programme officer. Families are just looking for ways to survive. If you can provide food at school the children will come, and this holds the key to the country’s future.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is launching emergency school feeding in the northern part of Mali. This will feed close to 70,000 children throughout the conflict-affected area. WFP is already feeding 113,000 children in the southern part of the country.

Will there be funding? That is a big question, because WFP relies on voluntary funding from governments and the public. Right now this operation is only 20 percent funded.

The neighboring country of Mauritania is also feeling the impact of the war, having taken in over 70,000 Malian refugees. This creates a great strain on communities that were already suffering in poverty and drought.

The World Food Programme has a school feeding operation in Mauritania to help both the host communities and refugees. The problem is again funding. Last year, WFP was forced to reduce the number of feeding days as well as the size of the food rations. Sophie Ndong, of WFP in Mauritania, says that last year “primary school children were assisted during 80 days only instead of the 160 days planned.”

The funding woes continue for Mauritania as 2013 gets underway. WFP wants to feed 149,128 children school meals but no funding has arrived except for a donation from the University of Guelph of 318,916 emergency meals for primary school children.

WFP also plans to provide school meals to 18,000 refugee children at the Mbera camp and 28,290 children from the surrounding host community. The program costs about $612,000 but no funding has come in.

The plans are there but the resources are not. Catholic Relief Services has school feeding in Mali, making use of a grant from the U.S. McGovern-Dole program. An expansion of this program’s reach could help fund the WFP programs as well and feed hundreds of thousands more children.

Children suffer the most in a crisis because hunger causes them to become stunted in growth and mind. Feeding the children becomes so vital, and if done at school it becomes food for education, and food for hope.

Article first published as Mali and Mauritania: War, Drought and School Meals on Blogcritics.

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