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Somalia: Many Displaced, Many to Feed

As fighting between Somali government forces and militias continues, so does the displacement of many thousands of civilians.

In recent months, Somalis have fled the capital, Mogadishu, in droves, affecting humanitarian operations as agencies adjust where and how they distribute aid.

World Food Program spokesman Peter Smerdon, in Nairobi, describes operations in Somalia as "a rather difficult undertaking."

Budgetary needs unmet

"Overall, the World Food Program has so far received just 40 percent of the resources it needs to assist 3.5 million Somalis from April 2009 through to next March," he says.

There could be more ration cuts.

"We, without any new contributions, will run out of food to distribute from October. Therefore," says Smerdon, "we need urgent contributions now to avoid continued ration cuts beyond September or having to entirely halt feeding to vulnerable groups."

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have left Mogadishu in recent months, seeking a safe haven from the ongoing fighting in the city. The UN refugee agency is trying to find out where they went. It's expected to release a new assessment in August.

"We will try to get assistance to them, but it's very difficult," he says.

Poor and hungry

"Generally, the displaced people are the most vulnerable because often they've fled Mogadishu with just the clothes on their back. And they don't have jobs. They have no money with them. They've used what money they can to get out of Mogadishu," he says.

"The fighting in Mogadishu," says Smerdon, "forced our Somali NGO partner in the capital to suspend on the 20th of June the provision of 80,000 daily prepared meals that are handed out to the most desperate people through 16 centers across the city," he says.

Two months of food worth $700,000 had been pre-positioned in the capital for the program. The food remains in the city, but it's not known when distribution will resume.

"That's the only large-scale feeding program in the Somali capital at the moment. So, it's a big blow to people inside the city," he says.

Local harvests part of food aid

"The main rains harvest is just starting. So what we do is we reduce our relief distribution to some people…in order to not force down prices for produce from local farmers," he says.

The harvest also creates jobs. Food distribution will be reduced in some areas in August and September and then gradually rise after the harvest.

Many of those who've fled the capital, says Smerdon, have settled in the Afgooye corridor.

"Our distributions in Afgooye have continued. There are more than 400,000 people living in a string of camps on the road to Afgooye out of Mogadishu…. Sometimes we have to divert the trucks because there's fighting in a particular place," he says.

WFP food ships continue to arrive in Mogadishu port, escorted by international naval vessels to ward off pirates.

"The supply line to Afgooye has been pretty secure so far," he says.