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Emergency aid flights brave war-torn Somalia

UN World Food Programme expands aid delivery operations in the Horn of Africa, widens distribution to Doolow south of Somalia

AFP , Monday 1 Aug 2011
Women from southern Somalia hold their malnourished children as they await treatment in Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, Sunday, (AP).

Aid groups ramped up operations Monday to help millions of drought-stricken people in the Horn of Africa, with the UN World Food Programme expanding its airlifts of emergency food supplies.

The WFP last week began flying in peanut-based paste for malnourished children in Mogadishu and widened the distribution to Doolow in the south of Somalia.

"Another aircraft arrived today, the sixth flight since the airlift began last Wednesday -- the airlift is an ongoing operation and will continue," said WFP spokesman David Orr in the war-torn Somali capital.

"That brings the total amount delivered into Mogadishu to over 80 tonnes of specialised highly nutritious food for malnourished children."

About 12 million people are affected by the devastating drought across the Horn of Africa, the worst to hit the region in decades.

The United Nations has declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia but the effects have been felt more widely across the country, as well as in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Supplies have been delivered through local partners in Mogadishu, Orr said, with enough for 80,000 children for a month distributed so far.

However heavy fighting last week between African Union forces and the Islamist Shebab insurgents in the Somali capital has raised fears that aid distribution could be hampered.

Malnutrition rates in Somalia are the highest in the world, and the relentless conflict and the drought have left millions in need of emergency humanitarian aid.

Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled to Mogadishu from elsewhere in the country, while thousands more leave daily to seek refuge in neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya, and emergency relief efforts are under way in other regions.

"WFP have also opened an airbridge into Doolow in southern Somalia, delivering high energy biscuits and other emergency supplies," Orr said.

"We are also continuing with the larger shipments of food by sea to Mogadishu, but this takes longer," said Orr.

The UN children's agency UNICEF has meanwhile launched a mass vaccination campaign for polio and measles in the world's biggest refugee camp, the Dadaab complex in eastern Kenya, home to some 380,000 largely Somali refugees.

"Teams are going from tent to tent, to make sure all children aged between six months and five years are given life-saving vaccines," said Melissa Corkum, a UNICEF spokeswoman.

"There are cases of measles in the camp as children are coming from Somalia, where immunisation is very low."

Aid workers say they fear outbreaks of diseases in the overcrowded camps, with some 1,300 new arrivals into Kenya every day, according to UN estimates.

"We are very worried about an outbreak -- we have people up to 29 years old with measles," said Antonia Kamore from the International Rescue Committee.

"They are very weak on arrival, while mothers have had to leave some children along the way, so there is psychological trauma as well."

Conditions are grim in the camps.

"Life is so hard here," said Hawo Hassan Ali, who arrived in Dadaab three weeks ago after fleeing Somalia with her seven-month-old daughter, Suabo Osman.

"We are getting some medical help, but the food is not enough," Ali added, as her daughter was vaccinated against polio and measles.

In Ethiopia authorities are to open a new camp in Dolo Ado region near the Somali border that is planned to hold some 40,000 people.

It will be the second camp to open since June, when the Kobe settlement was set up.

Kobe is already full with 25,000 new arrivals and many more waiting for shelter at overcrowded transit centres.

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