CHILDREN and women are bearing the brunt of a growing food crisis in
Mali - reports children's charity Plan International.
Aid to the north of the country was blocked after Islamist fighters seized the region, and remains restricted amid security fears following French military action.
"There are concerns that up to 660,000 under-fives could face extreme hunger in
Mali this year,” says Michelet William, Country Director for Plan International in Mali.
Northern Mali alone the UN estimates that more than half a million people don't have enough to eat."
"Young kids and women are the most vulnerable and because normal farming has been disrupted by the conflict, the worst could be yet to come."
More than 350,000 people have been forced to flee their homes after fighting in the West African country.
Many have found shelter with friends or family in the South, living in crowded conditions with extremely limited resources.
Emergency teams from Plan International are preparing to deliver aid to tens of thousands of host families and displaced people in the Segou region.
"People are living under incredible strain - for some Southern families the daily cost of housing and feeding their guests is more than twice their daily income," explains Mr William.
"Water, food, shelter and proper sanitation are urgently needed."
Neighbouring countries are also coping with the effects of the conflict - with more than 140,000 Malians living in camps in
Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.
Niger, more than 1,700 new refugees have been registered in the last two weeks.
However, aid has been disrupted to camps that are close to the Malian border due to increased risk of abductions and attacks.