MALI: MSF warns about use of humanitarian aid for political & military interests

The incursion of military & political actors into the humanitarian field is endangering the provision of vital humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people in need

Thursday, March 30, 2017 — The incursion of military and political actors in the humanitarian field is putting the provision of humanitarian aid at risk in Mali. This is the main conclusion of a report published by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) which analyses the continuous and harmful instrumentalisation of humanitarian aid in the country.

Despite the peace agreement signed in 2015 between the government of Mali and some insurgent groups, the conflict remains active in many areas in the north of the country. Insecurity which limits the presence of humanitarian actors, as well as the lack of state presence in these areas, has resulted in the population having very limited access to basic services, particularly healthcare. Unfortunately, the security threats towards humanitarian actors have been further aggravated by the risk of confusion between humanitarian actors and military actors.

There are currently three foreign military operations in Mali: the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission (MINUSMA), the European Union mission in the Sahel and the French military operation Barkhane, all of them in support of the government and its armed forces and against certain armed groups. Several armed groups are fighting against these operations in the country. In fact, the UN mission in Mali is one of the most attacked missions in the organisation's history.

This foreign response is framed within three different logics: the integration of all objectives (political, military, economic, development and humanitarian) into one agenda; the stabilisation of the context to help the Malian government to extend its legitimacy, and the fight against terrorism. The union of these three logics can have a serious impact on the provision of humanitarian action, which can be confused by the population and some actors as being part of the conflict.

According to the report published by MSF, there are four main risks for humanitarian action in Mali. First, the risk of the assistance being perceived as support for the government’s political agenda. Second, the humanitarian aid can be rejected by the population and groups opposed to this political agenda. Third, and as a consequence of this, humanitarian organisations can be attacked if they are identified as belonging to the enemy. The use of armed escorts by humanitarian workers and the use of civilian vehicles by the military, both common practices in Mali, may increase the likelihood of these attacks. And finally, there is a risk that vital humanitarian aid cannot be implemented on the scale it is needed due to the other three risks, aggravating the needs of the population to be assisted.

“Access to the most vulnerable populations has been a struggle for humanitarian actors since the beginning of the armed conflict. However, the humanitarian sector in Mali has not found a consistent manner on how to effectively react to the current military and political dynamics that subordinate humanitarian action to its interests, putting humanitarian organisations and their work at risk. We cannot resign ourselves to this reality,” explains Mari Carmen Viñoles, MSF’s programme manager for Sahel. “Despite the difficulties, humanitarian action is still possible and feasible today in Mali, and we have to work to keep it that way.”

MSF in northern Mali

MSF has been working in northern Mali since 2012, providing medical care to the populations affected by the armed conflict. The organisation is currently working in Ansongo district, in the Gao region, supporting a 48-bed referral hospital and another district health centre. MSF is also working in the rural areas of the district, arranging referrals and providing seasonal primary healthcare to the nomadic population. In the Kidal region, north of Gao, MSF is supporting two health centres in Kidal town and three more in the periphery.

Project: Emergency Gap

The report Perilous terrain: Humanitarian action at risk in Mali is part of MSF’s project entitled “Emergency Gap”, which aims to analyse the absence of effective and meaningful emergency response in the acute phase of armed conflict, at a time of growing levels of humanitarian crisis and needs. The report (in English) is available on the website of the Centre for Applied Reflection on Humanitarian Practice (ARHP): http://arhp.msf.es

MSF supports local medical facilities to ensure access to free health care to vulnerable populations in three regions of northern Mali (Mopti, Gao, Timbuktu) since April 2012. However, insecurity prevents medical teams out of cities to assess the needs of people. Mauritania, hundreds of refugees continue to cross the border every day. And for MSF, the emergency is not over.<br/><br/>Violence in northern Mali have forced thousands of people to flee to other locations within the country or to neighboring countries. Faced with growing insecurity, the medical staff has also fled the Malian health facilities. The conflict has weakened and disorganized health facilities already fragile and affected by drug shortages. Since January 2013, MSF treats on average 500 patients in the health center Konna, in the Mopti region. At 100 miles away, the city of Douentza was also the scene of bombing in January. MSF has been working in the local hospital since November 2012 and remained present during the bombing and fighting. On 26 January 2013, the team has been strengthened by the arrival of a surgeon, a nurse and a doctor. Photographer: Gonzalo Wancha
ransacked health centre in Timbuktu area *** Local Caption *** An armed rebellion took control of North Mali early 2012, leadint to important movements of populations. To tackle the disruption of the health care system brougth about by the crisis, MSF supports the hospital in Timbuktou and provides primary health care in villages around Timbuktou. Photographer: Foura Sassou Madi
Consultation in the village of Aglal, Timbuktu area *** Local Caption *** An armed rebellion took control of North Mali early 2012, leadint to important movements of populations. To tackle the disruption of the health care system brougth about by the crisis, MSF supports the hospital in Timbuktou and provides primary health care in villages around Timbuktou. Photographer: Foura Sassou Madi
Pharmacy of the mobile clinic *** Local Caption *** An armed rebellion took control of North Mali early 2012, leadint to important movements of populations.<br/>To tackle the disruption of the health care system brougth about by the crisis, MSF supports the hospital in Timbuktou and provides primary health care in villages around Timbuktou. Photographer: Foura Sassou Madi/
In 2012, the annual "hunger season" was predicted to be particularly serious in the Sahel, and a few particular regions were said to face acute nutritional crises . MSF has therefore expanded its nutritional activities to address the seasonal “peak” in malnutrition rates, while also developing longer-term approaches it can integrate into its regular programs. Between June 2012 and February 2013, MSF treated almost 1800 malnourished children in its ATFC and more than 400 in its ITFC. Photographer: Halimatou Amadou