Another day in the death of Somalia

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The Independent Online
BAIDOA - Mohamed Osman rasped his last breath at 10 minutes past eight yesterday morning in a feeding camp set up to stop him and thousands of famished Somalis dying. He died under a tree, 150 feet from a soup kitchen and 700 yards from the airstrip where the latest consignment of Western food aid was being unloaded.

Five weeks after the United States and its allies decided to address the worst humanitarian crisis on their troubled agenda, thousands of Somalis are still dying and will continue to do so daily, relief workers said. 'We are in the middle of the tunnel. We can't even see the light,' said Pascal Edou of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the standard-bearer for relief in Somalia, where 2 million people may starve to death.

The ICRC's raw data of disaster is collected daily. Every morning survivors bring out their dead wrapped in paper bundles, rags or old food sacks, and a lorry takes them away for mass burial.

The US stepped up its airlift on Saturday as military cargo planes made a dozen sorties to Somalia and northern Kenya, officials said. For the first time, huge C-130 Hercules made two flights to Baidoa, 140 miles (220km) west of the capital, Mogadishu. 'The Americans have agreed to fly 26 tons of maize-meal in a day until mid- September for us there,' said Paul Mitchell, spokesman for the United Nations World Food Programme.

Five flights transporting food donated by the ICRC went on to Beletuen, 250 miles north of the capital. The planes made three flights to Garissa and two to Wajir, both in northern Kenya, where thousands of Somali refugees have fled and drought has affected nomads in the area.

'Two hundred bodies are collected daily (in Baidoa),' said Christophe Sereau of the ICRC. 'That's a few less than in the past two months, but not much. The death-rate is slowly going down because the worst cases of malnutrition have already died. You don't see one- or two-year-old kids around here any more. They're all dead.'

Similar data for lives saved is not readily available. But suffering is on an unimaginable scale. 'It's worse than anything I ever saw in Ethiopia in 1985,' said an aid worker with the Irish Goal charity.

Dotted around Somalia's fourth-biggest town, tens of thousands of peasants wait for food to build up the strength to go back to wrecked villages, where they have no seed and no tools to prepare the ground before the short rainy season starts in a week or so.

While relief agencies fly in food and make plans for the immediate future, many are still bitter that the world failed to act until the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, urged the West to treat Somalia with the same urgency that it did Yugoslavia. The ICRC said it had warned of catastrophe in December. 'Five to six months ago we could have saved these people, stopped all this,' said Mr Edou.

NAIROBI - The head of the Nairobi-based UN Environmental Programme, Mostafa Tolba, said some Italian companies planned to profit from the chaos in Somalia by illegally dumping toxic wastes there, AP reports. The comments were reported yesterday in the Sunday Nation newspaper, and confirmed by an aide. To protect sources, Mr Tolba would not name the Italian companies or say where they planned to dump the waste, the aide said.