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    UNHCR Humanitarian Airlift Arrives in Mogadishu

    Tons of relief from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are offloaded after landing at Mogadishu airport, Somalia, Monday, Aug. 8, 2011
    Tons of relief from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are offloaded after landing at Mogadishu airport, Somalia, Monday, Aug. 8, 2011
    Lisa Schlein

    The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has made the first of three emergency airlifts of urgently-needed relief supplies to the Somali capital, Mogadishu.  This is the first airlift to Mogadishu undertaken by the agency in five years.   

    U.N. refugee agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic tells VOA that the UNHCR-chartered Ilyushin cargo plane has delivered more than 30 metric tons of shelter material and other aid items from the agency’s emergency stockpile in Dubai.

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    He says other items include plastic sheeting for shelter, sleeping mats and blankets, jerricans for water, as well as kitchen utensils to collect and cook food.  He says this first shipment of relief items will be distributed to some 26,000 victims of drought and famine in Mogadishu.

    “This aid is urgently needed because the Somali capital even before this crisis already hosted more than 370,000 internally displaced people, and with the recent crisis driven by drought and famine-related displacement, another 100,000 Somalis desperately flocked to the capital seeking some assistance there," said Mahecic.

    The UNHCR has been bringing relief items to Mogadishu by sea and by land during the past five years. But, because of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Somalia, the agency decided to airlift supplies now, as the quickest way to provide desperately-needed assistance to increasing numbers of famine victims.

    Despite the urgency of the situation, Mahecic says great care has to be taken in the distribution of the supplies because of the dangerous security situation. He says it is not clear whether the abrupt withdrawal of Islamist al-Shabab rebels from Mogadishu will improve conditions there.

    He tells VOA the UNHCR was shocked by riots that broke out over the distribution of emergency food in a camp for displaced people on Friday. During this melee, government troops looted sacks of grain and killed several people.

    “I think this just points out how volatile the situation is in the Somali capital and in south-central Somalia," he said. "Even in the areas controlled by one side or the other there are a number of competing militias and there are a lot of people around with guns. In fact, we were forced to suspend our own distribution at the very same site the day before the actual shooting and the looting happened. So, of course, we are following that up very carefully.”

    The second UNHCR flight is scheduled to arrive on Thursday, with the third to follow next week.  The agency says it hopes to distribute the supplies to 180,000 people in Mogadishu and famine-stricken south and central Somalia by the end of the month.

    While much of the aid is being delivered from abroad, the UNHCR says it is running out of emergency stocks inside Somalia and this will have to be replenished.   

    The agency is once again appealing to donors for money to provide protection and emergency needs for the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa until the end of the year.  It says it only has received 45 percent of its $145 million appeal to cover needs for Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

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