Somalia: Aid groups battle to deliver aid
Nairobi - Relief groups struggled to deliver emergency aid on Wednesday to hunger-stricken Somalia, where the World Food Programme was to airlift 14 tons of food for victims of an extreme drought.
Somalia is the worst affected country in the Horn of Africa by a prolonged drought that has put some 12 million people across the region in danger of starvation and spurred a global fund-raising campaign.
Nearly half of Somalia's estimated 10 million people are in need of relief assistance, owing to the effects of relentless violence and the drought that prompted the UN to declare famine for the first time this century.
The WFP's delivery, which had been delayed by bureaucratic hurdles in Kenya, is destined for the Somali capital Mogadishu, where tens of thousands have fled to in search of food.
"It is looking good. The clearance has been granted and the loading of the airplane continues," said WFP spokesperson David Orr.
"We are hoping that it will take off later today."
The airlift is to kick off a series of food deliveries that will also go to the Ethiopian town of Dolo on the border with Somalia and to the town of Wajir in northern Kenya, Orr said.
Risk of starvation
The WFP was forced to pull out from southern Somalia in early 2010 after they were banned by the al-Qaeda-inspired Shabaab rebels, who control large areas of the region.
A handful of relief groups were, however, spared the insurgents' ban, but have been struggling to cope with the rising numbers of people in need of humanitarian aid.
At the weekend, the International Red Cross said it had handed out 400 tons of food in drought-hit areas controlled by the hard-line Shabaab rebels, the first ICRC-led drops into such areas since 2009.
The bulk of Somalia's drought-affected people are in the country's southern regions.
Last week, the UN declared famine in two southern Somalia regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, where up to 350 000 people are at risk of starvation.
In Nairobi, a team of humanitarian organisations was meeting with donors to streamline operations to assist victims of drought that has also hit parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.
"There will be no political declarations. It will be technical," a diplomatic source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The meeting will look into UN agencies' operations in Somalia in the face of restrictions by the Shabaab militia.
At an emergency meeting on the Horn of Africa drought in Rome on Monday, officials said the UN had received about $1bn since first launching an appeal for the region in November 2010, but needs a billion more by the end of the year to cope with the emergency.
The World Bank on Monday pledged more than $500m, with the bulk of the money set to go towards long-term projects to aid livestock farmers while $12m would be for immediate assistance to those worst hit by the crisis.
However, charities have slammed low aid pledges and say not enough is being done.