The World Food Program says it is taking advantage of the current lull in fighting in Somalia to step up its food assistance to thousands of displaced people. It has begun a second round of food distributions to 122,500 people.
Most of the beneficiaries fled the capital, Mogadishu, to escape heavy fighting between Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional government and Islamic rebels. But thousands of people who remained in the capital, or who have since trickled back, are also in line to receive food aid.
WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the agency is very worried about the increasing acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia, which could have a detrimental effect on WFP's humanitarian operation.
"There is a lot of food that you can put on a boat and even much more than on trucks," she said. "And, the roads in Somalia are not the safest roads in the world. And, on top of that, the rainy season has started. The roads in the south and the center are becoming impracticable. And, you know, most of WFP beneficiaries are in the south and the center of Somalia."
The World Food Program feeds one million people in Somalia, of whom 800,000 are in the south and central parts of the country.
Somalia's coastal waters are considered among the most dangerous sea routes in the world. Pirates have hijacked at least five ships off Somalia this year, including two in the past week alone. In 2005, pirates seized two WFP-chartered vessels, forcing the agency to suspend all deliveries of food aid by sea to Somalia for weeks.
Christiane Berthiaume says WFP does not want a repeat of that now.
"We are launching an appeal to the authorities to do all that they can to stop those pirates to kidnap boats," she said. "For some money, they are threatening not only the lives of the crew, but also the lives of poor people who depend on food aid to survive."
The United Nations estimates between 300,000 and 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu since February first. An estimated 150,000 newly displaced people in the south and central regions are among the one million the World Food Program plans to feed this year. The agency says this effort is expected to cost an additional $10 million.