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MALI: Beyond the drought – “Families will disappear”
KAYES, 13 April 2012 (IRIN) – “It was the drought that made people move away from here,” Ousmane Touré said in Kayes, 450km northwest of Bamako, the capital of Mali, and a 10-hour bus ride across the scorched scrubland of the western Sahel. “There had been a tradition of emigration, but it was when the harvests failed in the 1970s that we saw a real surge in emigration. There was simply not enough to eat, so people took off for France, Germany and the United States. They knew it was only the way of feeding their families back home in Kayes. The same thing is happening this year.”
Touré heads the Association of Returning Migrants of Kayes (AMRK), a welfare organization that tries to provide short-term shelter and counselling to people coming back to this part of the country. The returnees, particularly those from the ethnic Soninké community, which spreads across Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, have played a major role in developing western Mali through their remittances and other cash transfers, giving it a stronger identity and economic base. Many of them are now deportees who have fallen foul of immigration restrictions in France and other countries.
“The emigrants have been well-organized and have always ensured money gets channelled back, building health centres, schools, even roads,” said Touré, but the economic crisis in Europe and tighter immigration controls are having a serious knock-on effect, and impoverished villages can no longer count on the same level of support.
In Mali the three-month rainy season starts in June, with the heaviest falls in July and August. This is the time when everyone participates in the intense agricultural activity of the main cropping season, which provides most of the food for the rest of the year. The lean period occurs in the driest months, just before the next rains come.