UNHCR sharply revises projected funding estimates for Sahel operation

Press Releases, 31 May 2012

GENEVA The UN refugee agency has revised upwards the estimated cost of helping hundreds of thousands of displaced Malian civilians, who fled conflict in their country early this year. The refugee agency is now seeking US$153.7 million for its operations this year in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, up from an appeal for US35.6 million in February.

Following a Tuareg uprising that began in mid-January, a deepening crisis due to a coup d'état in March and the proliferation of armed groups in northern Mali, close to 320,000 Malians have been forced to flee to neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger or seek refuge in safer parts of Mali.

"The sharp degeneration of the situation in Mali, which has led to the flight and continued forced displacement of a huge number of Malians in such a short time, is totally unexpected," says Liz Ahua, UNHCR's deputy director for West Africa, Central Africa and the Great Lakes region.

UNHCR needs the increased funding for its field operations to help 240,000 refugees and 200,000 internally displaced Malians until the end of the year. This is five times the number of uprooted Malians that the agency had estimated that it would need to assist when it issued the first appeal in February, which covered the needs of 85,000 people until July.

Malians continue to flee to surrounding countries amid reports of serious human rights violations in northern Mali, including abductions, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions as well as sexual and gender-based violence.

The majority of the refugees are women and children. They are settled in remote locations where the local communities are already facing food insecurity and severe water shortages due to years of drought in the Sahel region. Acute malnutrition rates among children under five years old are alarming, particularly in refugee sites in Mauritania and Niger, and there is an urgent need to increase water supply and improve sanitary conditions.

Despite the desperate humanitarian situation in the Sahel region, UNHCR has only received 13 per cent of the US$153.7 million needed. UNHCR is grateful to donors for the support received so far. However, our current funding level is woefully inadequate. We desperately need more funds now, ahead of the rainy season, which starts in June and is often marked by flooding.

Ahua says that UNHCR must preposition urgently needed aid close to the refugee hosting areas or face a disaster during the three months that the sites are likely to be cut off by flood waters.

Working in the Sahel region also makes the Mali situation one of UNHCR's most challenging operations in Africa because refugees and the internally displaced are in areas where insecurity, banditry and threats of kidnapping make it impossible for us to establish an office presence and deploy field staff as close to the refugees as we would like.

For further information on this topic, please contact: