In Africa, millions of people survive by their livestock. Yet veterinary care is often insufficiently available. When farmers lose their herds to disease, drought or conflict, they lose everything: their pride, their culture, their savings and their livelihood. By helping to care for livestock and improve production, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium supports local populations in their struggle against hunger and poverty.

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Vets help Malian refugees back on their feet

Since the beginning of March 2012, the armed conflict in Mali has forced tens of thousands of families to flee from the north of the country. Although Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium is not active in the conflict zone itself, the organisation provides assistance to those who have fled to the south; at the end of last year, the NGO distributed goats to 1,000 families in the Ségou region. Vets will be monitoring their wellbeing throughout the year.

The UN estimates the number of internal refugees in Mali to be more than 230,000, with an additional 160,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries, mainly Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. This figure is increasing by the day, particularly since the start of military intervention in Mali by French forces. Refugees are often forced to leave everything behind, and arrive in areas where the local population also faces a daily struggle for survival. The Sahel is slowly recovering from a severe food crisis last year, where irregular rainfall led to widespread crop failure, insufficient grasslands and high grain prices. The arrival of large numbers of refugees is now putting overwhelming strain on already limited access to available food and natural resources.

Goats as emergency aid

In Timbuktu I had lots of animals, such as goats and sheep. But when the rebels took the town I fled with my wife and four children and had to leave everything behind. When I think about it now it makes me very sad. Thankfully we now have some goats and my wife feeds them every day. The goats will be a legacy for my children, as I don't have anything else anymore. (Aboubacar Cissé, refugee in San)

Thanks to financial aid from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium and its local partner ICD has been able to extend help to Malian refugees and local residents in the Ségou region. Between September and December 2012, we distributed goats, animal feed and veterinary medicines to 1,000 families. These included 597 displaced (mixed) farmers and 403 local families, 217 of which had only a woman as the head of the family, and all of which received one male and one female goat. Each family also received 230 kg of animal feed and a variety of veterinary medicines.

"Teach a man to fish"

In addition, each family was given training from a vet on how best to improve the productivity of their goats. Twelve vets organised 51 sessions for 20 participants in which they provided training on aspects such as feed, habitat and animal health.

Fatoumata Yattara, a refugee in Dogory, explains: "I had to flee Gao with my five children. My husband brought us here and has now gone back. We lost everything when the rebels took the town, but before that we had goats and sheep. Thanks to Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium we have hope again. Instead of giving a fish to everyone every day, you should teach them how to fish. By giving us goats and teaching us how to look after them properly, we have a source of income again."

Monitoring the wellbeing of the goats

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Six vets are now responsible for monitoring the health and wellbeing of the goats given to each family, as well as the other animals that each family has. So far, 5,000 animals have been vaccinated against goat plague (PPR, peste des petits ruminants) and pasteurellosis.

Mohamed Agaly, a resident of Pelengana explains: "Since the conflict began I haven't had a moment's rest. Every day I receive family members from the north. I am currently taking care of 56 people, brothers, sisters, nieces and their children. When they're ill I taken them to the hospital, and if I see that they are hungry, which is often, I share my food with them. I am really pleased with the goats that we have been given, and the vet comes regularly to care for them, without charge. These goats will really improve our lives once they start to reproduce."

Resuming their lives

Through this emergency aid project, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium can ensure that families can resume their livestock farming activities, and in doing so, their lives. If each family has healthy goats, it allows them to take charge of their own household again, and to obtain an income and food. The organisation hopes to receive support for another emergency aid project this year.