Somalia: WFP cranks up effort to aid first wave of those who fled Mogadishu

ROME - The United Nations World Food Programme today said it was stepping up a drive to deliver food to almost 100,000 of the 365,000 people driven from their homes in Mogadishu by the worst fighting in 16 years. WFP expects the number could quickly rise to as many as 150,000.

"Last week we reached 32,000 people west of Mogadishu, and we're now expanding our operations further west to Qoryoley, and south to Merka and Brava," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

"Many people left the capital with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs - they are now trickling back only to find their homes in ruins. The majority of those who fled the fighting are still suffering in terrible conditions outside the city," Sheeran said.

On behalf of UNHCR, yesterday WFP airlifted 14 tons of urgently-needed non food items to Baidoa, a donation from the Italian Government. Items including blankets, plastic sheeting, water tanks, and water purification equipment were flown from the UN Humanitarian Relief Depot in Brindisi, Italy, a strategic hub of relief items managed by WFP. The goods are now being trucked from Baidoa to Afgoye for distribution to the internally displaced.

"We have to help these people now. Women, children and the elderly are sheltering from the rain under trees and cholera is spreading. With heavy fighting having died down over the past few days and with the cooperation of the Transitional Federal Government, we can now accelerate food distributions and expand into new areas previously cut off."

In the coming days, WFP plans food distributions to at least 100,000 people who fled the city, including 42,000 people gathered around the southern port of Merka who are due to begin receiving food today. Of priority to reach are also 9,000 people in Qoryoley, west of Mogadishu.

Distributions of food assistance are also being mounted to reach 13,500 people who fled to Brava, 220 kilometres south of Mogadishu, and a second distribution to assist 32,000 displaced people around Afgoye, a town 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu. The agency is also urgently exploring ways to assist people inside Mogadishu itself..

UNHCR estimates 365,000 people have fled Mogadishu - over a third of the city's population - since 1 February.

- Last Thursday, a convoy of WFP-contracted trucks pushed out of Mogadishu to the west and delivered relief food to 32,000 displaced people. Distributions went ahead without incident. It was the first delivery of WFP food to those forced to flee Mogadishu after WFP received the green light from the TFG.

- The TFG has said it will cooperate with efforts by UN agencies and NGOs to provide assistance to the Somali people and that UN agencies could use any airstrip to reach them.

- Last Saturday, a passenger aircraft from the UN Common Humanitarian Air Service, which WFP manages, made the first UN flight to K-50 airstrip south of Mogadishu since December with TFG consent. The UN is unable to use Mogadishu International Airport for security reasons.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 58 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People..

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