The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Mali Red Cross are distributing food, blankets, mosquito nets and other essential items to some 7,000 people -- those displaced by violence in the Diabali area and local families helping them -- in the towns of Niono, Kala Seguida and Mariko.
"These people are in the utmost distress," Abrao Cunga, an ICRC delegate in Mopti, said in a statement. "Most of them arrived without money, clothing or food, and they have no place to sleep. How to get food is one of their biggest worries."
Some left on motorcycles, donkeys, in carts or even on foot, with one family of six arriving on a single motorbike, Cunga added.
A French-led military operation is underway in Mali to drive back Islamist fighters who launched a surprise push southward toward the capital Bamako two weeks ago. An African ground force is being deployed to support French and Malian troops. French and Malian forces have now taken control of several towns, including Diabali, Konna and Douentza.
Access has become difficult for aid workers amid increased insecurity and military restrictions, with some groups reducing or suspending their activities.
The Red Cross said its assessments show people have fled the fighting in and around Konna. There are almost 1,000 displaced people in Mopti and Sévaré, and some 5,000 further east, in the towns of Badiangara and Bankass - whom the Red Cross is preparing to help.
But the agency said it was very difficult to know exactly how many people have been uprooted by the surge in violence.
"Some families leave their homes in search of safety, then they return, then they leave again," said Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of the ICRC delegation for Mali and Niger. "We're doing everything we can to reach all areas, especially those closest to the fighting."
Earlier this week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the recent clashes had displaced at least 12,000 people, including 8,429 refugees who arrived in Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger since Jan.10 and 3,600 people internally displaced in Mopti, Segou and Bamako.
As of Jan. 10, there were already more than 144,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries, and nearly 229,000 people uprooted inside Mali, after Islamist groups grabbed the north of the country last year.
The Red Cross said there had been worrying reports of large displacements in the northern areas of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, with people reported to be leaving urban centres because they fear fighting is approaching. The ICRC and Mali Red Cross will check on the situation in the coming days, they added.
MSF GETS INTO KONNA
Meanwhile, medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had managed to gain access to the town of Konna on Thursday after requesting to be allowed in for several days. It found health facilities empty of both medical staff and patients, it said.
An MSF team of two doctors and two nurses is now evaluating the medical and humanitarian needs in the area. "Their initial assessment describes a situation where the inhabitants have not had access to healthcare for several days," said Dario Bertetto, MSF head of mission in Mali.
The MSF staff have started providing consultations and are organising mobile clinics. The agency could offer more support to the main health centre in Konna if needed, it said.
But MSF has yet to be able to reach its team in Douentza, where access is still denied and supplies cannot be brought in, it added.