The World Food program says it is stepping up efforts to deliver food to thousands of people forced from their homes in Mogadishu by fighting between Somali insurgents and government forces backed by Ethiopian troops. All told, about 365,000 people have fled Mogadishu, and WFP officials say they expect the number of people needing food aid to rise to as many as 150,000. Lisa Schlein has more for VOA from Geneva.

The World Food Program says a lull in the fighting in Mogadishu and the cooperation of Somalia's transitional government have enabled it to accelerate food distributions and to reach areas of the capital that were previously cut off.

WFP officials say they hope to start delivering food Thursday to 42,000 people gathered around Somalia's southern port of Merka. In the coming days, the agency says it will expand its operations to other suburbs of Mogadishu, including the towns of Quoryoley, Brava and Afgoye.

WFP spokesman Simon Pluess says tens of thousands of homeless people are living in these towns and are in dire need of help.

"These people, we have to help them now. There are women, children, elderly people who are sheltering from rain under the trees. Cholera is spreading right now. Most of the people they left the capital with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some of them are now trickling back only to find their homes in ruins," he said. "So, there is an emergency and we have to help rapidly."

While WFP is taking care of food needs, the U.N. refugee agency is in the process of delivering urgently needed non-food items to the displaced. On Wednesday, WFP airlifted 14 tons of relief supplies on behalf of the UNHCR to the northern town of Baidoa.

Items include blankets, plastic sheeting, water tanks and water purification equipment. These goods now are being trucked from Baidoa to Afgoye, 30 kilometers west of Mogadishu.

WFP spokesman Pluess says good drinking water is particularly important in the fight against cholera.

Fighting between insurgents and transitional government forces backed by Ethiopian troops began in February. Since then, an estimated 365,000 people have fled Mogadishu, about a third of the city's population.

WFP says those remaining in Mogadishu are suffering greatly, and the group is urgently exploring ways to assist them.