The U.N. World Food Program warns food shortages in Mali are growing worse and appeals for additional funding to procure food. The WFP said the extra funding is needed to feed children under the age of five years until the end of the year.
The World Food Program says the additional money is needed to prevent the same food crisis that has struck neighboring Niger. The money will be used to feed 175,000 children in the hardest hit parts of Mali.
The WFP is increasing its appeal for food aid to $13.6 million from $7.4 million. It has already targeted nearly 450,000 people in the most critical areas of Mali.
Pablo Recalde, director of the WFP in Mali, says lack of food is just the beginning of Mali's problems.
"There is not such an issue as a famine in Mali," he said. "Like many countries in the region, Mali suffers from very deep rooted poverty, so children die every year of hunger, and it is only long-term development and investment that will end this permanent cycle of deterioration."
Mark Snelling is with the British Red Cross Society's Emergency Response Unit (ERU) which is assessing the international aid effort in the region. He says one of the key issues is that Mali is not getting enough rain.
"The difference in Mali is their rainy season has not yet started in the way that it should have done," he said. "Unlike Niger where the rains have been fairly good so far. Traveling around such areas as Timbuktu mainly we heard the same stories over and over again. The livestock are really, really beginning to deteriorate."
Mr. Snelling says Mali's children need additional help and so do the sick and the elderly who stayed behind when their families left home with their livestock in search of pastures.
"It's breaking up the family structure even further and it makes those left behind even more vulnerable than they might be otherwise," he said.
According to the WFP, Mali's agricultural output fell by 42 percent last year, and was 25 percent below the average over the five previous years.
The Red Cross's Mr. Snelling says it is not likely to get any better.
"If there is any serious further delay in the rain, then a lot of pasture will not grow now and, then what happens is, if it dries out and dies, it won't even come back next year," he said.
The WFP launched an appeal for Mali in November 2004, but says so far it received less than a third of what it requested. Aid workers say that the international community's slow response may help aggravate Mali's problems.