Somalia: Flying In The Food
Published on 19 September 2011

Unloading life-saving food for malnourished children at Mogadishu airport (Copyright: WFP/Susannah Nicol)

WFP normally transports supplies by road and by sea. But sometimes in an emergency, an airlift is the fastest and most direct route to those in need.

MOGADISHU -- You stand there for what seems an age, peering into the blue sky, searching for the incoming cargo plane. Then all of a sudden a tiny speck of white catches your eye, and only seconds later there’s the deafening roar of an engine thrusting into reverse and the smell of burning rubber invading your nostrils. Another couple of minutes and there’s an aircraft rolling across the tarmac toward you. It seems so big and solid that it’s hard to imagine how it ever got off the ground in the first place. Mercifully it did, because its cargo will save lives.

Mogadishu’s Adan Abdulle airport is buzzing with activity – and not least because of another series of airlifts of food arriving for WFP.  The cargo varies:  some flights carry cartons of 500-gram sachets of fortified ready-to-use food for the treatment of malnourished children while other flights are loaded with 50-kilogram sacks of wheat-soya blend, an enhanced cereal packed full of nutrients.bags of wfp food and supplies outside of a plane

Growing number of IDPs

By the end of this round of airlifts, WFP will have transported more than 600 metric tons of specialized nutritional products into the city – this is enough to feed some 350,000 people for a month. These supplies boost the stocks required to feed the growing number of internally displaced people (IDPs) desperately in need of food. 

Those numbers have risen dramatically during recent months. In July alone, UNHCR estimated that there was an influx of 27,000 new arrivals into Mogadishu, most of them from the southern regions where humanitarian assistance has been limited.  They were forced to abandon their homes and land and go in search of food. Those who have fled to Mogadishu – a city whose IDP settlements have themselves been declared a famine zone – believe the chances of surviving there are better.

Maintaining the supply

WFP alone is targeting food assistance to more than 300,000 people in Mogadishu and that number is set to rise as more IDPs arrive in the capital and as we gain better access to those already here. Vital supplies of food are reaching people through hot-meal centres, health clinics for malnourished children and take-home rations for families. But in order for that to continue, there must be no break in the supply chain. Under normal circumstances, WFP food is moved to where it’s needed by sea and by road. But, when time is of the essence in a humanitarian crisis of this scale, we look to the skies.

WFP Offices
About the author

Susannah Nicol


Susannah Nicol worked for WFP as a Spokesperson for Somalia.