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Airlifting Of UN Food Aid To East Africa Set To Begin Tuesday

The United Nations' World Food Program has announced that is set to begin airlifting the much required food aid to parts of drought-stricken Somalia and other regions in East Africa later on Tuesday.

Although some reports suggest that the airlifting of aid has been delayed by some logistical problems, such claims are yet to be confirmed.

Apart from the Somali capital of Mogadishu, the WFP food aid shipments will also be made to two areas bordering Somalia in neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya.

While the aid arriving in border regions will be moved later to the affected areas in Somalia for distribution, the aid reaching Mogadishu will be distributed by the UN-backed Somali interim government and the AU peacekeepers stationed there.

It will be the first such food aid shipment to East Africa after the United Nations formally declared famine in two areas in southern Somalia last week. Somalia has been facing its worst drought in more than six decades.

While declaring famine in the two southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions in southern Somalia, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden said malnutrition rates in the Horn of Africa are currently among the highest in the world.

However, Somalia's main Islamist militant group, the al-Shabaab, has banned the WFP from operating in areas under its control, including the worst affected southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions. The aid to those regions will be delivered through Kenya.

Al-Shabaab is branded a terrorist organization by the United States and most of the international community. The hard-line Islamist insurgent group and other allied organizations still control large areas in southern Somalia where they enforce strict Islamic law or Sharia.

Earlier in the month, al-Shabaab had lifted a ban on foreign food agencies, excluding WFP, in the wake of the deteriorating drought situation in the East African country. The al-Qaeda-affiliated militant outfit is the military wing of the Islamist movement ousted by Ethiopia-backed Somali forces in 2006.

The group had banned foreign aid organizations from operating in the country in 2009, accusing them of being anti-Muslim. Nonetheless, the group reversed its stand on July 6, saying that it now welcomes help from any organization that does not have any hidden agenda, excluding the WFP.

The U.N. estimates that more than ten million people in East Africa have been affected by the current drought. Although some regions in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda have also been hit by the drought, the situation in southern Somalia is compounded by an Islamist insurgency and acute poverty.

This year's severe drought in south Somalia has forced millions to leave the region to refugee camps set up in neighboring countries in search of food and water. Experts believe that the latest al-Shabaab move was prompted by the exodus of thousands from areas under the group's control.

by RTT Staff Writer

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