07/11/2016 06:26 GMT | Updated 08/11/2017 05:12 GMT

Comprehending Chaos: Humanitarian Aid In Mali

Humanitarian aid is usually most needed in some of the most difficult places on the planet. These are places that lack what we take for granted such as water, food and safety but instead have plenty of conflict, food insecurity and disease. If you are a child in a place like that life is difficult, often far too short and full of terrible choices.

The West-African country Mali is one such place, where your choices as a child were recently described to humanitarian workers as "becoming a terrorist, a bandit, a robber or a victim". This is a place where aid is desperately needed, but also very difficult to provide. In places like Mali, where many have already felt compelled to become bandits to save their lives, aid organisations continue to work where violence is both commonplace and unpredictable.

To work effectively in these places, World Vision and many other agencies have long been convinced that good aid requires good context analysis. A good understanding of a context enables the right operations to take place when needed and in a way that is appropriate for that area. We have also found that the closer to local communities this analysis takes place, the more closely the results will reflect the realities of the people we seek to help.

World Vision and Mercy Corps recently deployed an inter-agency Good Enough Context Analysis for Rapid Response (GECARR) in Mali. This tool has been developed and tested over the last few years by World Vision in some of the most challenging operating environments such as Burundi, the DRC and the Central African Republic and is designed to allow flexibility and agility in order to produce a snapshot of the current and imminent humanitarian situation in a fragile context.

By consulting local communities, our operational staff in the area, partner agencies and a rapid triangulation with secondary data, GECARR creates a big-picture understanding of an area during or in anticipation of a possible crisis or important change in context. By directly involving both the communities affected by the situation and the aid agency staff likely to respond,, GECARR seeks to minimise the gap between analysis and action.

In addition to understanding the current situation,, looking ahead to possible future scenarios is a critical component of context analysis. This helps guide humanitarian assistance towards meeting anticipated needs as seen by local communities. It also provides a solid foundation to share the story of what reality looks like for communities in a place like Mali with the world.

While in Mali, another powerful observation we heard is that Mali can be understood as the "Afghanistan of West Africa". It is a huge country, with rich history and a history of being a nexus for trade across the continent. But while commercial trade has often brought profit, an illicit drug and arms trade also flourishes. The illegal trades, political volatility in recent years and the many armed groups have in turn triggered the deployment of international forces to Mali.

The resulting insecurity, combined with a lack of food and poor basic services like sanitation and education means many communities are worried about the future and what will happen to their children. It also poses a real question for aid organisations as Mali is neither a safe country where development work can take place unimpeded but nor is it one of the world's largest conflict crises nor a major disaster- and so it often falls through the cracks of international attention and resources.

As a result, Mali is one of the "protracted" crises that is likely to remain of real humanitarian concern for many years. It is also a context that is likely to see many changes that will impact the needs that families and children will have, as well as the operational realities that aid agencies will face. In this environment, World Vision, Mercy Corps and many other agencies are determined to keep working and keep seeking to understand the local context to be best able to ensure that the coming generations can live in a country of peace.

Written by Sarah Klassen and Johan Eldebo