|Mariam with daughter Adidiatou and son Brae|
Sevaré is the seat of government for this region. Its marine port is the tiny bustling harbor town of Mopti just off the main road. This is a main trading and passenger terminal on the Niger River connecting the north and south. It is a strategic location for the government and it is here that the battle between the Islamists, wishing to impose Sharia law in Mali, and government forces is likely to take place.
We just landed at Sevaré Airport by a special flight operated by the UN Humanitarian Air Services (UNHAS). The tiny airport with the sign “Aeroport International” welcomed and quickly ushered through the eight passengers who are all aid workers from Plan and UN OCHA.
More than a dozen hotels are on the road from the airport to the center of this town which once bustled with tourism. Sevaré is the gateway to historic town of Timbuktu – a popular tourist destination.
I’ve come here with an assessment team from Plan Mali. The team met with a range of government officials and NGO colleagues. There are thousands of displaced persons in Mopti living with relatives. Officials say the signs of social wear and tear are showing. The locals are farming families affected by the food crisis. They have opened their homes to their relatives from the north but are unable to adequately feed everyone. The little food they have is being shared.
My colleague, Christophe Mvogo, Plan’s emergency response manager, agrees that over a period of time this situation could create a secondary crisis – one of child malnutrition. The main issues now are those of “a complete package for child protection and education”. The complete package would come with health care, water, sanitation, hygiene and school meals. He’s exploring the gaps that Plan can fill.
There is only one camp in town. It houses 57 displaced families (457 people) who have no relatives. Two families are from Kidal. The remainder is from Timbuktu and Gao where the insurrection started.
I meet Mariam, 27, who heads one of the two families from Kidal. Mariam was four months pregnant when the insurgents attacked the army barracks where she lived with her three children and her husband who is a soldier with the Malian army. She gave birth to a boy three weeks ago in the camp. Four babies were born that week one after the other on consecutive days.
“Never, never, never am I going back to Kidal,” Mariam says shaking her head. “I am from Gao and when peace returns, I want to go back to my home town where I will feel safe.
“There was shooting and fighting for two days and two nights. It was terrifying. They were on the outside of the barracks bombarding us and trying to get it. I thought I was going to die,” she adds. She’s happy to be living in peaceful surroundings in Sevaré; however, Mariam said that as soon as her baby is a little older travel, she will join her husband in Bamako until she is able to return to Gao.