In an effort to feed an additional 175,000 children in the hardest-hit parts of Mali and to avoid it slipping into a humanitarian crisis similar to neighbouring Niger, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today increased its emergency appeal for the West African country to $13.6 million from $7.4 million.WFP said in a statement that it revised its Mali appeal to feed children under the age of five until the end of the year in the areas of Gao on the Niger River, Timbouctou, Kidal in the north-east and Kayes and Koulikoro near the border with Mauritania. “The international community must respond now to avoid a humanitarian crisis,” said Pablo Recalde, WFP’s Mali Country Director. “This cyclical food shortage in an already burdened country like this will only further weaken the livelihoods of rural families unless we act immediately.” WFP said in today’s statement that to date it has received contributions of $2.7 million to its emergency operation in Mali, leaving a shortfall of $10.9 million. “It is vital that the remaining funds are provided as soon as possible so that food can be purchased within the region to provide an immediate response,” the WFP statement said.WFP had already been targeting a 450,000 people in the most critical areas of Mali, which like Niger has a recurring problem with food shortages and associated malnutrition, especially at the height of the three-month annual lean season before the first harvests in October. Ranked among the four least-developed countries in the world, Mali is subject to structural food insecurity stemming from poverty, lack of rain, rudimentary farming techniques, desertification and precarious health and sanitation conditions. Last year’s locust invasions, which were the worst in 15 years, further weakened Mali’s ability to grow enough food. In March, the Malian government forecast that 1.2 million people would face food shortages. In close collaboration with humanitarian partners, the Government has released some 30,000 tons of food from its National Emergency Reserves to help stave off a crisis.