This year, bitter cold rages in Mali despite a massive winter rainfall. It is usually thought that in a year with abundant rain, the cold becomes less biting. This year’s climate harshness has flown in the face of this popular belief. In Bamako, as well as in several other parts of the country – especially mountainous areas – it is unbearably cold to the point of forcing inhabitants to change their way of life.
The mentally ill, who are often homeless, suffer greatly in this situation. It is common to see them curled up on themselves to escape the harshness of the climate. Their backpacks, which are usually used as a means of cover, are no longer sufficient to protect themselves against this freshness that seriously worries Malians.
In a country where the thermometer often shows up to 12 ° C and where it feels like it snows at night, nothing enables people to escape the ferocity of the cold in spite of all the usual tips about how to keep warm. At night in Bamako, the streets are almost deserted and everyone remains cloistered in their homes. Nobody wants to put their nose out of doors except those whose revenue-generating activities are performed at night time. Even the latter work in extreme discomfort. Traditional naming ceremonies normally held early in the morning, currently attract much fewer people owing to the intense cold.
Moreover, as usual in Mali, when night falls, groups of adults and young people gather around some tea to exchange ideas and offload the stress of the day. But this habit has evaporated since the intensification of the cold. On the other hand, many of the elderly and children, who are very vulnerable to low temperatures and to whom it is medically advisable to surround themselves with a great deal of care, have now become accustomed to warming themselves every evening around a log fire.
In this harsh climate, numerous housewives burn incense to fumigate their houses or fill a charcoal stove for heating. But many are unaware of the dangers associated with the misuse of these fuels, according to Dr Cheick-Oumar Kanté. "When you shut yourself up in the room with a stove full of embers, the carbon dioxide that emerges there is asphyxiating and may cause death,” he said, in a strict warning to people against such practices.
Most of the urban merrymaking movements that regularly brought together large crowds after dark have almost ceased to function. This has negatively impacted the turnover of firms in the cultural sector, as well as owners of restaurants and nightclubs, which are less and less frequented because of the ravages of the freezing cold.
"Since last December up to this very month, my business does not work anymore. The intensity of the cold caused my clients to flee, as many came at night. I was optimistic that before the end of January, the cold would drop and my business would return to normal, but I realised that at the beginning of February, nothing had really changed. At this rate, I will have to reduce my staff not to go bankrupt,” said Jean-Jacques Djourté, owner of a refreshment bar in a working-class district of Bamako.
It is not only adults who are affected by the changes. To protect her child against pulmonary infections, Astan Tirera, a market gardener, washes her baby every morning and evening in a basin inside her room using hot water. "After giving him a bath, I dress him with heavy clothes that I carefully selected at the second-hand shop,” she said, eager to take her vegetables to the local market for sale.
The health briefings undertaken throughout the country by the Committee of Women Users of Health Services (CWUHS) as well as educational messages broadcast daily by local radio stations since the cold began to rage last December, have allowed many women to adopt appropriate practices to better protect their children.
From a different perspective, Famakan Doumbia, head of family and a retired civil servant, noted that with the arrival of the cold, the food consumption capacity of his family had increased considerably. "In my house, people have more appetite and eat a lot. A 50kg bag of rice just about does us for 20 days, whereas it used to last beyond one month,” the old man complained.