Somali famine: First UNHCR airlift arrives in Mogadishu

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Media captionThe BBC's Will Ross reports from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on the consignment of aid to Mogadishu

The UN refugee agency has flown aid to famine victims in Somalia's capital - its first airlift to war-torn Mogadishu for five years.

Some 100,000 people have arrived in the city in the last two months in search of food.

Insecurity makes it difficult for aid agencies to distribute materials.

The Islamist al-Shabab group was reported to have pulled out of the city on Saturday but its fighters can still be seen patrolling some areas.

While the government has been celebrating what it called its "victory" over al-Shabab, BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross says few people expect Mogadishu to be peaceful.

For the aid agencies, the city remains an environment full of challenges, he says.

Extended drought is causing a severe food crisis in the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Weather conditions over the Pacific means the rains have failed for two seasons and are unlikely to return until October.
An estimated 12 million people in the region are affected by the drought. The UN has declared a famine in six areas of southern Somalia, where it says 750,000 people could die in the coming months in the absence of adequate response.
The humanitarian problem is made worse by conflicts. Militants had lifted a ban on aid agencies operating in parts of southern Somalia, but have since accused Western groups of exaggerating the scale of the crisis and again limited access.
Since the beginning of 2011, around 15,000 Somalis each month have fled into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia looking for food and water. The refugee camp at Dadaab, in Kenya, has been overwhelmed by more than 420,000 people.
Farmers unable to meet their basic food costs are abandoning their herds. High cereal and fuel prices had already forced them to sell many animals before the drought and their smaller herds are now unprofitable or dying.
The refugee problem may have been preventable. However, violent conflict in the region has deterred international investment in long-term development programmes, which could have reduced the effects of the drought.
Development aid would focus on reducing deforestation, topsoil erosion and overgrazing and improving water conservation. New roads and infrastructure for markets would help farmers increase their profits.
The result of climate conditions, conflict and lack of investment is that millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are currently existing on food rations in what is said to be East Africa's worst drought for 60 years.
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Last week, one of the large camps for displaced people was attacked by pro-government militiamen who stole all the food.

Many people are still too scared to return to that camp and remain scattered across Mogadishu.

The 31-tonne UNHCR consignment - including plastic sheeting for shelters, blankets and sleeping mats - landed at Mogadishu airport on Monday afternoon.

The UNHCR said it usually ships its relief items to Mogadishu by sea and by land but because to the unprecedented rise in the number of people arriving in Mogadishu, it had decided to airlift supplies in order to save time.

There are now a total of five famine zones in Somalia - where the UN says 3.2 million people - almost half the population - are in need of immediate life-saving assistance.

More than 11 million people across the Horn of Africa have been affected by drought - the region's worst for 60 years.

The US has announced it is giving another $105m (£64m) in to help to the drought-hit areas.

The announcement coincided with a visit by the wife of US Vice President Joe Biden to Kenya's Daadab refugee camp where tens of thousands of Somalis have come for assistance.

Jill Biden said the aim of her visit was to raise awareness and convince donors to give more, AP news agency reports.

"There is hope if people start to pay attention to this," she said.

In south-eastern Ethiopia, the UN refugee agency has said it is concerned about the plight of refugees in the Dollo Ado camps following an outbreak of suspected measles.

The mix of measles and high levels of malnutrition can be fatal, the UNHCR says.

Moses Okello, UNHCR's representative in Ethiopia, said it was a priority to organise a mass vaccination campaign.

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