MOGADISHU - The United Nations World Food Programme said a second round of food distributions started today to 122,500 people either driven from Mogadishu or who had recently returned but warned that a new spate of piracy threatened to strangle WFP's main supply routes to Somalia.
"We are expanding our distributions to the displaced - many of whom are women and children - with this round of distributions, which means WFP should be reaching 80 percent of the 150,000 we plan to feed," said Peter Goossens, WFP Somalia Country Director in Nairobi.
"But just when we are reaching more people, incidents of piracy against ships off Somalia are again on the rise and are threatening to cut the fastest and most efficient way - by sea - to move large amounts of food assistance to the needy in Somalia during this crisis," he said.
"In the hope of enriching themselves, these pirates are very cruelly playing with the lives of the most vulnerable women and children who had to leave their homes because of fighting. We appeal to the Somali authorities to act to stop these pirates before they cause more misery both to the crews of hijacked ships and to the people who rely on WFP food for their survival," Goossens added.
Food distributions began on Friday to 30,000 displaced in Merka, south of Mogadishu. In the coming days, WFP food will also reach 25,000 people in Mogadishu, 13,000 in Baidoa to the northwest, 32,000 near Afgoye west of the capital, 13,500 in Brava and 9,000 in Qoryoley district southwest of the capital.
WFP in late April and early May distributed food to 114,000 displaced people and returnees. The latest distributions to a total of 122,500 people include 22,000 people who did not receive food in the last round. Some of those fed in early May only required a single two-week ration.
The United Nations estimates that between 300,000 and 400,000 people fled Mogadishu since 1 February. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the non-governmental organisation CARE are also feeding substantial numbers of the displaced from Mogadishu.
Pirates have hijacked at least five ships off Somalia this year, including two in the past week alone. Several unsuccessful attacks have also been recently reported. In 2005, a similar spate of piracy in Somali waters, including the hijacking of two WFP-chartered vessels, forced the agency to suspend all deliveries of food assistance by sea to Somalia for weeks.
In 2007, WFP plans to assist 1 million people across Somalia, including 800,000 in the southern and central regions. Those in the south and centre include the 150,000 newly displaced by the recent fighting in Mogadishu. This effort is expected to cost an additional US$10 million.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: on average, each year, we give food to 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 58 million hungry children, in 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP - We Feed People.
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