Twenty million people in the north African Sahel region are experiencing "serious" food shortages, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said Wednesday.
IFRC president Tadateru Konoe told delegates from the "Sahel-Plus" group of societies across the band of nations bordering the southern Sahara desert that weak infrastructure and health systems were putting people at further risk.
"Some 20 million people across the Sahel still face serious shortages," he said at a meeting in Mauritanian capital Nouakchott of the group, which comprises Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad.
Konoe said the crisis had engulfed 4.3 million Malians, including refugees and those displaced internally who "need food assistance because of the prolonged conflict".
Al Qaeda-linked Islamic fighters controlled the key cities of northern Mali for nearly 10 months until being driven out by the French-led Operation Serval in January.
The operation has forced the extremists from the cities they seized in the chaotic aftermath of a military coup that overthrew Mali's government in March last year.
But French and African forces have faced continuing suicide blasts and guerrilla attacks in reclaimed territory.
Konoe said the risk of epidemics had increased across the region because of "poor water quality and sanitation, malnutrition and a lack of hygiene".