Red Cross needs funds to step up Mali aid efforts

GENEVA - The Red Cross has appealed for an additional $43 million to help hundreds of thousands of people in war-torn Mali, and said it would be stepping up its visits of detainees.
"Now that northern Mali has been in the grip of armed violence for almost 16 months, the living conditions of people affected by the conflict are very worrying and humanitarian needs substantial," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement late Wednesday.
The organisation appealed for another 40 million Swiss francs ($43 million, 33 million euros), more than doubling its budget for Mali and neighbouring Niger, which is housing thousands of Malian refugees, to around 75 million francs.
It also said it had reached an agreement with the Malian government that would allow visits to people detained by all sides in the conflict.
"The ICRC expects to step up its activities for detainees and to have access to all places of detention in the country," it said.
Mali imploded after Tuareg rebels seized the country's vast arid north in the chaos following a coup in March last year before losing control to well-armed Islamists.
The extremists terrorised locals with amputations and executions performed under their brutal interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
The French-led intervention launched in January quickly drove out the insurgents from their northern strongholds, but significant pockets of resistance remain in the desert around the cities of Gao and Timbuktu.
There have also been reports of reprisals by Malian troops against ethnic groups suspected of sympathising with the rebels.
The ICRC said Wednesday the additional funds it was asking for would allow it and the Mali Red Cross to give food aid to around 420,000 people this year and provide some 186,000 farmers with seed.
The organisations would also help vaccinate and treat some two million animals and distribute around 510 tonnes of animal feed, helping 35,000 herders and their families to maintain their livelihood, the statement said.
ICRC also vowed to continue providing health care and supplying fuel for electrical power stations in the main cities in the north of the country to make sure water remains available.