The World Food Programme will start flying aid into Mogadishu "within days", the UN agency's director said Thursday, after the United Nations officially declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia.
Speaking during a visit to the Somali capital, Josette Sheeran said WFP was also looking at ways of getting food supplies into drought-stricken areas controlled by the Islamist rebel group Shebab "as quickly as possible".
"WFP will start airlifts within days into Mogadishu to get vital supplies of special nutritious foods for the malnourished children who so desperately need it," Sheeran was quoted as saying in a statement from WFP headquarters in Rome.
"WFP welcomes the statements of those controlling areas of southern Somalia, that humanitarian aid will now be allowed," she said, referring to statements from Islamist militants earlier this month about allowing aid agencies in.
"We are testing the ground to see how we can best get life-saving supplies in as quickly as possible to those at the epicentre of the famine in the south.
"WFP is preparing to open up a number of new routes -- by land and air -- into the core of the famine zone," she added.
A WFP spokesman earlier said that the agency was looking into possible airlifts into the south of the country, working with a partner on the ground to ensure the aid would reach the people most in need.
Sheeran said the WFP was reaching 1.5 million people in Somalia and was scaling up operations to reach an additional 2.2 million in the south.
The WFP was forced to pull out of southern Somalia last year after a series of threats and curbs on its operations from Shebab rebels, but it has continued to operate in Mogadishu and central and northern regions of the war-torn country.
In Mogadishu alone, WFP assists approximatley 300,000 people and it has been scaling up operations with three new centres to feed the large numbers of internally displaced people flooding into the city from the south.