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Thousands of Displaced Children in Mali Face Food Shortages, Warns Save the Children

TORONTO, ONTARIO -- (Marketwire) -- 02/13/13 -- Thousands of children displaced by the conflict in Mali face food shortages, warns Save the Children. These children were already suffering from the devastating food crisis even before being displaced, and require urgent humanitarian aid as their families cannot afford to buy enough food.

The children's aid agency estimates that 203,500 children fled their homes in the northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal since the outset of the conflict over a year ago. Just over half of them have been displaced within the country, while the rest have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

"Thousands of children have had to flee their homes in terror after suffering months of extreme hunger and are now at risk," said Tom McCormack, Save the Children's Country Director in Mali. "Children are still going hungry, with many cutting down on meals and some reduced to eating only rice. They need urgent help."

Displaced families have told Save the Children staff about their daily struggle to get by:


--  "Food is a problem. We don't have money so we don't have food. I only
    eat rice and gruel and am hungry," Amada, 13-year-old boy (Koutiala). 
    
--  "The children tell me all the time they're still hungry. We only have
    rice to eat, we can't afford vegetables, we urgently need food,"
    Zeinabou, 44, mother of seven children (Sikasso). 
    
--  "It was really hard in Niger, especially because of the hunger. I was
    eating rice, only rice. It was expensive, and there wasn't enough money
    to buy anything more," Maimouna, 15-year-old-girl (former refugee in
    Niger, recently displaced to Koutiala).
    

As the conflict begins to abate in some parts of the north, tens of thousands of displaced families are now faced with the difficult decision of whether to return home. But without assistance, Save the Children says that they face the prospect of returning completely destitute, many to houses and shops that have been destroyed and pillaged during the fighting.

Many will be forced to rebuild and replace what was stolen or damaged with no income or savings to do so. Making matters worse, the northern region is still affected by the food crisis which is affecting hundreds of thousands of children.

"While fighting dies down in some areas, the situation is far from stabilized and many families will remain displaced for weeks or even months to come. Those who do return home will face extreme difficulties in rebuilding their lives, and for all those affected by both the food crisis and the conflict, it is clear the road to recovery will be a long one," said Mr McCormack. "We need to remember that even before the recent conflict or food crisis Mali was already one of the poorest countries in the world."

Operating in Mali for 25 years, Save the Children is now working to expand its existing protection, livelihoods and nutrition programs to meet the needs of displaced children who have arrived in Mopti, south of Gao and Kidal, as well as southern areas of the country such as Sikasso.

Note to editors:

Latest UN figures estimate that there are 241,448 people displaced within Mali and 166,425 who have fled across the border, totalling 407,873 displaced.

Save the Children estimates there are 108,652 internally displaced children and 94,862 refugee children, totalling 203,514 displaced children. This is based on UNHCR's percentage of children among those who have fled to neighbouring countries (57%), and IOM's percentage of children among the newly internally displaced population between January 12 and 31 (45% are estimated to be children).

Children are estimated to make up 53.78% of the total population of Mali (extrapolated from UNICEF data). The UN estimates that one million people are affected by the food crisis in the north of the country, of which 537,800 (53.78%) are children.

Save the Children is present in Mopti and Segou - areas now hosting thousands of displaced people. In Mopti alone the WFP estimates 70% of families are now struggling to provide for themselves. Save the Children is also responding to the crisis in Gao, where rapid increases in food prices between 25 to 50% left many families unable to buy food last year.

About Save the Children

Save the Children is the world's leading independent organisation for children, delivering programmes and improving children's lives in more than 120 countries worldwide. Working toward a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation, Save the Children's mission is to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.

Learn more at www.savethechildren.ca and www.facebook.com/savethechildren.ca.

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