MOGADISHU // A plane carrying 10 tonnes of urgently needed nutritional supplements to treat malnourished children has landed in famine-hit Somalia, a UN official said yesterday.
The airlift is part of a crisis intervention as famine threatens to spread across the country.
David Orr, a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman who flew with the shipment from neighbouring Kenya to the Somali capital of Mogadishu, said it was the first airlift of food aid since the UN declared a famine in parts of Somalia last week.
Mr Orr said the aid would be distributed to medical facilities to treat malnourished children.
The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar to urge them to make hefty donations to help fight famine spreading in east Africa.
Mr Ban called on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al- Sabah and the Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani to urge them to donate funds for the Horn of Africa, a UN statement said.
He also called the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, to ask him to respond to the UN appeal for emergency funds, it added.
A four-member UAE aid team left on Tuesday for Mogadishu on a mission to assess the needs of the Somalis, just days after the President, Sheikh Khalifa, issued directives to provide emergency relief.
Challiss McDonough, a WFP spokesman, said the airlift was the first of several planned in coming weeks. She said yesterday's shipment of peanut butter-based nutritional paste would treat 3,500 malnourished children for one month.
Ms McDonough said WFP decided to send in the airlift because of an urgent need to treat the growing number of internally displaced children suffering from malnutrition before their condition deteriorated.
She said about 18,000 children were suffering from malnutrition and that the number was expected to grow to 25,000.
WFP says it cannot reach 2.2 million people in need of aid in the militant-controlled areas in southern Somalia because of insecurity.
Somalia has been embroiled in conflict for two decades, since the last leader was overthrown by warlords who then turned on each other. Islamist militant groups have spent the past few years battling the weak UN-backed government in an attempt to overthrow it.
Al Shabab, the most dangerous militant group in Somalia, said last week it would not allow the aid groups to operate in its territories, exacerbating the drought crisis.
Earlier this month Al Shabab, which has links to Al Qaeda, had shown indications of wavering on its ban from 2009 on certain aid groups in its territories.
UN officials said on Monday that the UN had received about US$1 billion (Dh6bn) since first launching an appeal for the region in November 2010 but needed $1bn more by the end of the year to cope with the emergency.
The drought has created a triangle of hunger where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet. WFP estimates more than 11.3 million people need aid across drought-hit regions in East Africa. The majority of those affected live in pastoral communities whose herds have been wiped out because of a lack of water.
Separately, Unicef said yesterday that it is trying to vaccinate more than 300,000 children in Kenya in an emergency programme designed to prevent an outbreak of disease as refugees stream into the north of the country.
Jayne Kariuki from Unicef said that four northern Kenyan regions would be targeted along with Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, during the two-week programme to immunise the children against polio and measles.
The children will also receive vitamin A and deworming tablets. In Liboi, a dusty Kenyan town near the border with Somalia, mothers in long robes clustered around with children as aid workers dispensed medicine under a thorn tree.
Kenya recorded it first polio infection in 20 years in 2009, after a four-year-old girl was diagnosed with the disease along the country's remote border with Sudan.
Polio is an infectious disease that mainly strikes children under five. It causes paralysis and can be fatal.
In 2006, two refugees escaping the war in Somalia were diagnosed with the disease at the Dadaab refugee camp at Kenya's eastern border with Somalia. That outbreak was contained before it spread.
* Associated Press with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse