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Nearly half a million Mali children at risk of acute malnutrition: UN

UNITED NATIONS--Nearly 500,000 children under the age of five in Mali are at risk of acute malnutrition and 1.5 million people don't have enough to eat, the director of U.N. humanitarian operations said Thursday.

John Ging, who spent three days in Mali last week, said at a news conference Thursday that the people of Mali need more help to confront the “very grave” humanitarian situation.

He appealed to donors for additional funds, saying the U.N. has received just US$135 million — or 24 percent — of the US$568 million it needs for Mali this year.

“The situation is extremely fragile,” Ging said. “It's already negative and it can get a lot worse.”

Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the government based in southern Bamako.

Last month, the Tuaregs regained control of the key northern town of Kidal after fighting that killed eight soldiers, six local government officials and two others in what the government described as a “declaration of war.” An uneasy cease-fire was mediated by the African Union.

Ging said over 18,000 people fled their homes in Kidal during the attacks in May and more than 150,000 people remain displaced.

He said 85 percent of the nearly 500,000 children at risk of acute malnutrition live in southern Mali, while in the more sparsely populated north the food crisis has been made worse by the deteriorating security situation, which has severely limited people's access to water, health care and education.

Ging said the first message he heard when he visited the northern town of Menaka was an appeal from women for an end to the rapes, violence, and psychological traumas they face.

“Their plight is shocking and unacceptable,” he said. “More must be done to help them.”

Ging said “the tragedy” of Mali is that it is caught in a man-made situation but “the good news” is that it has the potential to sustain itself if it gets political stability, security and development assistance.

“The prospects for a peaceful Mali depend on the courage of political leaders to demonstrate their full commitment to the peace process,” Ging said.

Bert Koenders, the U.N. special envoy for Mali, told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that requires the immediate start of peace negotiations between the government and the Tuaregs.

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