UN aims to feed half a million people in Mali this year

The UN food agency said Friday it aims to provide half a million Malians with emergency food aid this year, especially in the restive north, as a survey showed that nearly all those who have fled the area hope to return home soon.

The UN World Food Programme aims "to reach around 564,000 people in Mali, (including) more than 400,000 crisis-affected people in the north in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in need of assistance," spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.

The United Nations agency's plan includes providing emergency food aid to some 135,000 people either displaced by conflict or hosting the displaced in southern Mali, as well as "fragile communities suffering from the consequences of the crisis", she said.

The plan would require $45 million (35 million euros) immediately to allow the WFP to buy some 30,000 metric tonnes of food to last through June, and would require a total of $137 million for the full year, the WFP said.

The International Organization for Migration meanwhile said Friday that a survey of families from northern Mali who had been displaced in and around the capital Bamako showed that 93 percent wanted to return to the north as soon as possible.

The survey of 836 families from the northern towns of Timbuktu and Gao, which had been under the control of Al-Qaeda-linked rebels for eight months until a French-led military intervention to chase out the Islamists began last month, showed that 23 percent planned to return home this month.

Another 32 percent said they would return by the end of the year, IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told reporters.

Two-thirds of undecided families said their return date would depend on the security situation on the ground, he said, pointing out that "some 89 percent of respondents expect the security situation to improve soon."

Some 380,000 people have fled northern Mali since the conflict began a year ago, including more than 150,000 who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, according to recent UN figures.

The west African nation imploded after a coup last March by soldiers who blamed the government for the army's humiliation at the hands of north African Tuareg rebels, who had launched an uprising in the north two months earlier.

With the capital in disarray, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the Tuareg rebellion and took control of the north.

Though the French-led intervention has helped push back the Islamist rebels, Mali's army is struggling to restore security.