LONDON (AlertNet) - Mali's humanitarian crisis caused by hunger, displacement and violence, is rapidly worsening and the south, where needs are greatest, is being neglected as the world focuses on conflict in the north, a top U.N. official said.
Mali, which once enjoyed a reputation for being a stable nation in an often turbulent region, has been plagued by insecurity since a coup in March hastened a rebel advance across the north of the largely desert Sahel state.
A mix of local and foreign Islamists have outmanoeuvred separatist Tuareg rebels and now control the three northern regions, imposing strict Islamic law and stoking fears the zone has become a terrorist safe haven.
As a result of fighting, more than 420,000 people have been uprooted from their homes within Mali or have fled to neighbouring countries such as Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
At the same time, Mali is suffering a food crisis that has swept across West Africa's Sahel region putting 18 million lives at risk. In Mali alone, 4.6 million people face severe hunger and 175,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
"The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly because of the inadequacy of the response. The situation in Mali is desperate, but not hopeless," said John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ending a three-day visit to the country.
He said a lack of funds was hampering a scale-up of relief operations.
Only 42 percent of the $214 million needed for the humanitarian response in Mali, has been received so far, with health, education, water and sanitation the most critically underfunded sectors, according to OCHA.
The U.N. refugee agency says in some camps, refugees are still coping with below "emergency standard" daily water supplies.
Ging said there was a misconception that, without a solution to the security and political crisis in the north of Mali, little could be done to scale up the humanitarian response.
"In fact, 80 percent of the country's humanitarian needs are in the south where there is relative stability," he said in a statement.
He also highlighted the humanitarian response under way in the north despite limited access due to the violence there.
"Remarkable work is being done by national and international NGOs in the north," Ging said. "They have been creative in overcoming many obstacles to access the people in need, and their humanitarian interventions are stemming further mass displacement."
Ging's comments came a week after Washington called on Mali's authorities to accept offers by African states to send a military force to stabilise Mali and help retake control of its north.