UN Mali aid faces massive funding gap

Aid operations to help 457,000 people who have fled their homes in war-torn Mali are facing a massive funding shortfall, the UN's refugee agency warned Friday.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said the agency needed $144 million to provide food, shelter, health-care, water and sanitation and education.

"So far we have received only 32 per cent of this amount," he told reporters.

In addition to those displaced at home, there are more than 175,000 Malian refugees in surrounding countries -- with 75,850 in Mauritania, over 49,000 in Burkina Faso, and some 50,000 in Niger.

UNHCR expects the number to swell by 45,500 over coming months.

"Many recent arrivals are in worse condition than the refugees who arrived last year, requiring immediate relief and attention," Edwards said.

"The humanitarian situation is also being aggravated by prevailing food insecurity as a result of ongoing drought and a series of crop failures affecting the entire Sahel region," he added.

In addition to refugees who have crossed the borders, more than 282,000 people are displaced within Mali.

"People inside Mali are not yet returning to the north of the country," Edwards underlined.

Mali was rocked by a coup in March 2012 by soldiers who blamed the government for the army's humiliation by Tuareg rebels who launched an uprising in the north two months earlier.

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the Tuareg rebellion, and French forces intervened in January in a bid to stop Islamist forces from moving south.

Although largely driven out of the north's main cities, the Islamists are waging a guerrilla war against French, Malian and other African troops seeking to restore government control.

The refugee crisis has been fuelled by reports of retaliatory attacks against ethnic groups suspected of rebel sympathies.

UNHCR is not the only cash-strapped player.

Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for UN children's agency UNICEF, said it had mustered just 24 percent of the $82 million it needed to help Mali's kids.

"Most schools have been looted, and infrastructure damaged. Half of health facilities are not working. Water supply is poor and of poor quality. The vast majority of teachers and health workers are still not at their posts, especially outside of urban zones," she said.

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