Physical access or security concerns are no longer the main blockade to delivering aid in Mali — it’s simply funding, according to John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“The key challenge is member states themselves are suffering financial constraints and we recognize that, but we are also saying this is an investment,” Ging told Devex during a Tuesday afternoon U.N. headquarters press conference. “These people don’t want to be aid-dependent. They just need some help now.”
Funding lags are also affecting progress on the Pan-Sahel development plan, led by U.N. Special Envoy for the Sahel Romano Prodi, said Ging, who commented that the plan “is where it is” and cannot move forward without a boost in pledges from member states.
The United Nations is requesting $373 million in 2013 to provide for the 585,000 people in Mali in need of immediate food assistance and 1 million at risk of food insecurity. Around 660,000 children are also at risk of malnutrition.
Member states have responded to the appeal, so far with $17 million. That amount does not include funding Mali has received in pledges from countries during recent conferences. During an African Union-hosted donor conference at the end of January, countries pledged $455.53 million to Mali.
The U.N.-specific funding shortfall is generally crippling OCHA’s ability to deliver the food, medicine and educational support that people need to rebuild their lives, says Ging, who recently returned to a trip to Mali. He appeared visibly impacted by the brutal stories he said he heard from people of northern Mali who are “very much still in fear” of both reprisals from the Malian government and a return of extremists.
“It is a whole population in the north that has been traumatized in the north that has been traumatized and now they need our help and this is an opportunity to help… it means releasing the funding so we can do our job,” he said.
The shortage is also having specific ripple effects on various sectors of OCHA’s work, with the most visible shortcomings in the delivery of education supplies and services.
“We are getting some funding particularly for food assistance, immediate life saving assistance,” he told Devex in the briefing. “But we have received no money at all for education, which for the people is such a high priority and for the country is such a high priority.”
While access remains somewhat challenging for OCHA in the northeastern areas of Mali, where a fair portion of the fighting is centered, the western region has recently opened up, Ging said. He noted that international humanitarian organizations have consistently been delivering aid across both regions, when neither was secure.
“We really have, I would suggest, quite a stable situation for our work,” he said. “The question is will it remain stable and the answer is I don’t know.”
The U.N. funding request for Mali includes $153 million for the most urgent interventions over the next six months. UNICEF on Tuesday also appealed for $45 million in urgent funding to cover the needs of women and children over the next three months.
Ging told Devex following the press conference that representatives of member states have expressed to him that they are still weighing how they can best contribute to Mali relief efforts, considering financial constraints.
“They have to better understand how to have the most impact and they have to make the choice between development assistance and humanitarian assistance,” he explained. “Our job [as OCHA] is to communicate it in a way that creates a better understanding of those decisions as a matter of priority.”
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