TENS of thousands of Malians, mostly women and children, have fled fighting in the north of the crisis-hit country, reports Plan International.
Aid agencies and government officials have witnessed a surge of civilians arriving in Segou, a government-controlled city in the south.
Fierce clashes have raged over the border town of Konna since Friday between armed insurgents and the national army, backed by the French military.
"People are arriving in Segou on a daily basis. Many are tired, distressed and in need food and water,” says Michelet William, Plan’s director in Mali. “We fear our already stretched resources will not last long.”
Neighbouring West African countries are expected to provide troops to help defeat Islamists in northern Mali.
Many of those fleeing have been described as ‘panicked’ and ‘exhausted’ by local aid workers. Before last week’s clashes in Konna, 19,000 people were registered as displaced in Segou.
This figure is said to have grown to more than 31,000 in the past few days, according to the Malian government.
Children’s charity Plan is gathering food supplies and other items for distribution, including soap, sanitary towels and sleeping mats.
Aid workers for Plan have been providing education and food to thousands of children and families displaced by unrest and violence in Mali since last year.
A Plan emergency team will be deployed to Segou to assess the needs of families caught up in the crisis.
“The coming days will be crucial and the international community should act quickly to ensure that a humanitarian crisis does not develop,” says Mr William.
“Our emergency team will head to Segou to support relief work and assist staff already deployed in the area.
“Our teams are gathering emergency hygiene kits. Food supplies are also being purchased and gathered for those most in need.
“Our efforts will be coordinated with local NGOs in the area. We need help and fast if we are to meet the needs of those who are now displaced.”
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