New York -

The director of UN humanitarian operations says almost 500 000 children under the age of five in Mali are at risk of acute malnutrition and 1.5 million people need immediate food assistance.

John Ging, who visited Mali last week, told a news conference on Thursday that the people need more help to confront the “very grave” humanitarian situation.

Ging said the UN has received just $135 million of the $568 million it needs for Mali this year.

“The situation is extremely fragile,” he said. “It's already negative, and it can get a lot worse.”

Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012.

A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have regained control of Kidal. - Sapa-AP