From one bank of the Niger to the other: the fate of internally displaced people in Timbuktu

In northern Mali, conflict and insecurity are forcing people to flee and leave everything behind

WFP West Africa
World Food Programme Insight
3 min readApr 27, 2018


N’fa Adama Traore displays WFP vouchers. Photo: WFP/Bouya Baba

N’fa Adama Traoré lives with his family in the Gourma, an arid part of the Sahel in Mali. The Niger River that flows through this area gave his people a trade: fishing. Nearly 40 years ago, N’fa Adama’s then nomadic community settled down by the river and began farming, raising livestock and reforesting.

“We had to leave everything behind. Our situation is difficult.”

But a land dispute eventually erupted between the communities in a village called Iloa. The fishermen were driven out and forced to move to the other side of the river in Banguya.

“When we were chased out of our village, we had to leave everything behind. Our situation is a difficult one and we ask the Government to help us return to our land,” says 50-year-old N’fa Adama.

In addition to inter-communal issues, this part of Gourma-Rharous Cercle in Mali’s Timbuktu region, is facing several other problems. Gourma, which means “the right bank of the Niger River” in the Songhai language, has been the scene of several violent attacks by armed men who have plundered villages, forcing people to flee and seek refuge elsewhere. Several soldiers were killed when a military camp in the area was attacked.

Women of the Gourma fishing community after receiving WFP support. Photo: WFP/ Bouya Baba

The dangerous link between insecurity and hunger

Families forced to flee — with little to no resources — find it very difficult to feed themselves. This leads to a vicious circle between insecurity and hunger.

Insecurity disrupts livelihoods. It directly affects farming, leads to the displacement of communities, and consequentially, results in the rise of humanitarian needs, hunger and malnutrition. Hunger, poor harvests and the depletion of natural resources stoke rivalry over scarce resources, fuels inter-communal conflicts, and drives instability and violence. Mali has been struggling with these challenges since the 2012 political crisis.

This year is expected to be a very difficult one for families in many parts of the country. Food security data released by Cadre Harmonisé in March indicates that nearly 1 million people are expected to be food insecure as the lean season progresses — a 55 percent increase compared to the 2017 lean season.

In the Timbuktu region, the deterioration of the food situation is sharper, with the number of people who find it hard to feed themselves expected to increase by 46 percent compared to last year.

Photo: WFP/Bouya Baya

Responding to the changing needs of displaced people

The World Food Programme (WFP) is responding to the situation by helping people like N’fa Adama. To give the internally displaced time to recover, WFP is providing food distributions for an initial 3 month period.

“WFP was the first to come and assist us here.”

Where markets are functioning, WFP is using cash-based transfers, such as as vouchers, so that people can buy the food they prefer from local retailers.

“WFP was the first to come and assist us here” says N’fa Adama. “We sincerely thank WFP for the vouchers, which allow us to buy the food of our choice. It is an important comfort for us.”

Learn more about WFP cash transfers

Written by Cecilia Aspe



WFP West Africa
World Food Programme Insight

Providing lifesaving assistance and building life-changing resilience in 19 countries of west and central Africa.