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Updated: March 2009


Overview | World Vision's history in Mali| World Vision in Mali today


The Republic of Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa, is bordered by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Mauritania. Roughly the size of Texas and California combined, Mali features the hot and dry conditions of the Sahara in the north and the semi-tropical, humid climate of the Niger River valley in the south. Natural resources include gold, phophates, salt, limestone, gypsum, granite, and hydropower. There are iron ore, tin, and copper deposits that are known to exist in Mali, but they are currently not being mined.

More than 90 percent of Mali’s population lives in the more fertile southern region of the country. There are several sub-Saharan ethnic groups living in Mali, including the Bambara, who make up nearly 40 percent of the population. The Malinké and Soninké people live primarily in the south, along with the Sarakole, Dogon, and Songhay peoples, who farm in the Niger River valley. The Fulani are herders located near the central town of Mopti, while the Tuaregs and Moors, herding nomads, live predominantly in the north. French is the official language of the country, but more than 80 percent of Malians speak Bambara.

After several years of French rule and a brief unification with Senegal, Mali declared independence in June 1960. Eight years later, the army overthrew the government in a bloodless coup and established what would be 23 years of military rule. In 1991, dictator Moussa Traoré was overthrown amid increasing pressure to democratize the nation. Amadou Touré led the overthrow and served as temporary head of state through the peaceful transition to a multi-party democracy. Nomadic Tuareg rebels fought against the government in the early 1990s, accusing the administration of cultural marginalization. A peace agreement was later signed allowing for significant development and anti-poverty programs for the Tuaregs. Amadou Touré, who won the popular vote in 2002, was re-elected for a second term as president in 2007.
map of mali

flag of mali 
Country statistics 
Population11.97 million
Land mass478,767 square miles
People per square mile25
Life expectancy49.5 years
Under age 5 mortality rate217/1,000
Literacy rate24%
Access to safe water50%
Average annual incomeUS$440
Indigenous beliefs 9%

The United Nations has recently ranked Mali as the world’s fifth poorest country, based on economic, health, and education indicators. Only 15 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls attend secondary school, and most withdraw from classes by the age of 12. The resulting low adult literacy rates—more common among women than men—have proven to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

Approximately 80 percent of Malians engage in agriculture as a source of income, producing cotton, millet, sorghum, and rice. Gold is the primary mining product in the country and, along with cotton and livestock, accounts for nearly 90 percent of export earnings. The high cost of petroleum products, the rise in export costs for gold, and the closure of the main import/export route to the Port of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire have contributed to Mali’s declining economy in the last three years. Nearly two-thirds of the country lives below the poverty line, and 74 percent lives on less than $2 a day.

Government leaders in Mali face the challenge of improving the health-care system in a nation affected by economic hardship, malnutrition, and high mortality rates. On average, a little more than one child in five does not live to see his fifth birthday—currently sixth worst in the world. Malnutrition affects up to 15 percent of children under five in most areas of the country. Locust infestation and poor rainfall totals have caused a decline in the nutritional status for children. Also, malaria, meningitis, cholera, and tuberculosis are prevalent in Mali. One physician for every 12,500 people compounds the problem.

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World Vision's history in Mali

World Vision began working in Mali in 1975 after finding a great need for water supplies, agricultural development, and literacy training among the people. A year later, World Vision provided materials to dig 10 freshwater wells, establishing a steady source of clean, safe water as well as offering lifesaving help to people suffering the effects of a severe drought in Timbuktu. Other projects included:
  • The Kayes Well Project—a partnership with United World Mission to dig wells in the Sahel, the region just south of the Sahara, to provide 75,000 people in 19 villages with water for drinking, gardens, and livestock.
  • The Mali Famine Relief Project—launched in 1980 when another famine swept the central region of Ségou. Food sources were depleted and malnutrition was prevalent in rural areas. People were forced to eat roots, leaves, and small game. World Vision responded by distributing grain to 4,000 families.
  • The Nioro Du Sahel Survival Project provided emergency food to 90,000 people in northwest Mali suffering shortages due to socioeconomic and environmental problems. This project alleviated malnutrition affecting 70 percent of children under age five.
Between 1986 and 1998 World Vision provided relief from a locust infestation, construction of feeding centers, community development projects, physical rehabilitation, and child survival education classes. Sponsorship was begun in 1988, providing 400 boys and girls with improved nutrition, education, and immunizations. By 1995, the number of sponsored children had risen to nearly 10,500. Other projects included:
  • The Koutiala Child Survival Project was created to lower the morbidity and mortality rates among young children in southern Mali. The lives of many boys and girls were enhanced through immunizations, improvements in nutrition, and training parents to better care for their children.
  • The Gao Women Dignity Restoration Project sought to restore and enhance the dignity and morale of young women living in eastern Mali. Each woman was taught an income-generating trade, such as tailoring.
  • The Northern PEACE (Promoting Economic growth, Agricultural production, Community health, and Education) Program targeted nine sub-districts in the northern regions of Gao and Kidal. A lack of resources, frequent drought, and civil insecurity plagued this underdeveloped area of Mali. Efforts included expanding rice production; supporting income-generating activities; constructing schools, health centers, and dams; promoting literacy training; and conducting immunizations and health education classes.
World Vision’s work in the 21st century has included providing access to safe water and improved nutrition, agricultural training, increasing child immunizations, adult and child education, developing education and health systems, and providing microfinance assistance.

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World Vision in Mali today

World Vision is committed to partnering with the people of Mali to enhance their lives today and to help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities, families, and children. Currently, 57,790 children are registered in the World Vision sponsorship program. Several times this number of children and other family members benefit from World Vision activities. Of these registered children, many have World Vision sponsors in other countries. U.S. donors sponsor more than 8,500 girls and boys. In addition, World Vision operates 24 development programs, three of which are supported by U.S. donors. Highlights of these efforts include the following:
  • The Rural Water Health Project (RWHP) will provide potable water to more than 80,000 Malians in 150 communities in the Ségou and Mopti regions. Goals of the project include drilling 200 boreholes and fitting them with hand pumps, constructing 1,000 latrines and 75 livestock troughs, training community volunteers in hand pump maintenance, and educating children and families on disease control. The RWHP hopes to reduce the prevalence of waterborne and water-related illnesses, such as diarrhea, trachoma, and guinea worm.
  • The Kolokani Base Microfinance Project aims to assist marginalized Malians, specifically women and the physically disabled, with small business loans and business management resources. Thus far, the project has distributed more than $135,000 in loans, with an average loan size of $71. Community members have been educated in business development, and banking personnel have been trained to handle loans. The goal for 2008 is to increase the loan portfolio to $300,000. This project will benefit more than 5,900 clients in the Beledougou and urban Bamako areas in southern Mali.
For more information on World Vision’s programs in Mali, please contact the United States office.

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