A malnurished Malian refugee child.

The fighting in Mali has left more than 60,000 people internally displaced. Photo: AFP

MILLIONS of lives are at risk because of a lack of funds for aid projects aimed at preventing a deepening food crisis in west Africa, humanitarian agencies warn.

Failed rains, high food prices and military conflict have caused food shortages that threaten about 15 million people in at least six countries across the Sahel region, which spans from Senegal to Chad. The United Nations says more than 1 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

A consortium of aid agencies including Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision have plans to provide emergency assistance to about 6 million people but have only been able to raise less than a third of the funds required. This could deprive more than 2 million people of life-saving assistance and is likely to result in significant cutbacks to aid programs, the agencies said last week.

Malian refugees sit in the back of a pick up as they arrive at the Mbere refugee camp near Bassiknou, southern Mauritania, 60 km from the border with Mali. Click for more photos

Malian Refugees

Malian refugees sit in the back of a pick up as they arrive at the Mbere refugee camp near Bassiknou, southern Mauritania, 60 km from the border with Mali. Photo: AFP/Abdelhak Senna

The UN response to the crisis has also been plagued by a lack of funds. It estimates more than $US700 million ($683 million) is urgently needed to tackle the crisis but less than half that amount has been raised.

Political instability in the region, especially a military coup in Mali a month ago, has stoked the crisis. Fighting between the Malian army and armed groups has displaced more than a quarter of a million people since the start of the year. Many of these people continue to arrive in drought-affected areas within Mali and in neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania - countries already facing a food and nutrition crisis.

There are serious concerns about the fate of thousands of people in northern Mali.