A hot meal at Howlwadag feeding centre in Mogadishu (Copyright: WFP/David Orr)
WFP is ramping up its Somalia operation as large numbers of people continue to flee the famine zone in the south. Airlifts into Mogadishu are delivering special fortified food for malnourished children
Salado Shuriye lost three of her children on their two-day trek from Merca up the coast to Mogadishu. They were aged four, five and six. “They were weak and hungry”, she says, “they just couldn’t go any further”. The family were farmers and had lost their crops to drought. So they set out in search of food.
Arriving in Mogadishu, the mother and her surviving children went straight to Howlwadag feeding centre where they got a hot meal – on the menu that day: maize meal and a vegetable stew. WFP provides the non-perishable ingredients while the Danish Refugee Council covers the fresh items. There are 20 such centres in the capital and each day they feed as many as 85,000 people – many are new arrivals from the famine zone.
Salado told her story to WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran who visited Howlwadag feeding centre days after the UN announcement of famine in south Somalia. Meals were being served from huge vats cooking on open fires. In a corner of the compound, some children were sucking Plumpy Nut – a special, fortified paste like peanut butter – from sachets they had collected from a nearby supplementary feeding centre. These ready-to-use supplementary foods (RUSF) are a vital element in WFP’s battle against child malnutrition.
LIFE-SAVING PRODUCTS FOR CHILDREN
During her visit to the war-torn Somali capital, the WFP chief announced a scale-up of food deliveries to Somalia – with priority being given to airlifts into Mogadishu of large quantities of RUSF.
“We’re in a life and death situation here”, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told Prime Minister Dr. Abdiweli Mohammed Gaas hours before her visit to the feeding centre. “We need to get these nutritious foods for children in fast “.
In her meeting with the PM and later with President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Sheeran said that WFP was already reaching 1.5 million people in Somalia. In the days and weeks ahead, she said, WFP would ramp up its operations to assist more then two million people cut off from humanitarian assistance since WFP and other agencies were forced out of the south in early 2010 by extortionate demands and threats against the lives of staff.
The priority, she said, was reaching those at the epicentre of the famine. Otherwise, people would continue to pour into Mogadishu and across the borders into neighbouring countries.
Bolstered by pledges of cash coming in from donor governments around the world, Sheeran said it was important to act quickly and decisively. A massive relief operation in an environment such as Somalia was not without risks, she conceded. But the alternative – to sit by and wait – is not a humanitarian option.