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updated: 8/13/2011 9:04 PM

U.N. expands famine relief work in Somalia

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  • Somalis camp in a deserted building Saturday in Mogadishu. The World Food Program says it is expanding food distribution efforts after the U.N. has estimated that only 20 percent of people needing aid are able to receive, mainly because an al-Qaida-linked group controls large portions of the country.

      Somalis camp in a deserted building Saturday in Mogadishu. The World Food Program says it is expanding food distribution efforts after the U.N. has estimated that only 20 percent of people needing aid are able to receive, mainly because an al-Qaida-linked group controls large portions of the country.
    Associated Press

 
By Katharine Houreld
Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The World Food Program said Saturday that it is expanding its food distribution efforts in famine-struck Somalia, where the U.N. estimates that only 20 percent of people needing aid are getting it.

Some of those from the outlying regions have walked for days to the capital for help, only for it to be too late.

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In the pediatric ward in one of Somalia's best-equipped hospitals, a shriveled baby lies motionless on a crowded ward; a doctor said he weighs less than he did at birth. Doctors push a feeding tube down the nose of a skeletal 3-year-old, his body covered in sores. Mothers lay their babies between the cots on the floor because there are no beds left.

Banadir hospital lacks equipment, nutritional supplements and even beds, but its a refuge most of the families here have walked for miles to get to, carrying children who got weaker by the hour. Many arrive too late to be saved; both Ali Abukar, the baby, and Ibrahim Abukar Abdi, the 3-year-old, died shortly after the Associated Press spoke to their mothers.

That's why aid agencies urgently need to increase their efforts to reach families beyond the Somali capital, said Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, on Saturday. Wastelands in the battle-scarred capital are being transformed into makeshift camps as families move in and set up shelters, hoping for help.

"We have to start getting aid out to them to avoid a massive influx of people into the city," she said.

The U.N. estimates that 2.8 million Somalis need food aid, and 2.2 million of them live outside the capital in areas controlled by Islamist rebels, who have forbidden many aid agencies to work in their territory, including the U.N.'s World Food Program. But WFP is already getting aid to some areas in southern Somalia that had been inaccessible a month ago, said one official.

"We are expanding our activities in Mogadishu and we are looking to dramatically increase those activities over the coming days and weeks as the security situation in the city permits," said Stanlake Samkange, the WFP regional director in East and Central Africa. More aid was getting to southern Somalia as well, he said.

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