MOGADISHU, (AFP) — Gunmen opened fire killing five people on Friday as they looted food aid for thousands of starving people affected by famine in the Somali capital, officials and witnesses said.
“Five people died on the spot after militiamen opened fire to loot the food aid,” said Abdikadir Mohamed, a driver.
“There was chaos and everybody was running for cover after the security escorting the food aid convoy exchanged fire with the armed gang. The food was looted,” Mohamed added.
Residents at the Badbado camp had been queuing up for food supplied by the World Food Programme when the gunmen started shooting.
All those who died were displaced people who had fled drought or famine in the surrounding countryside.
“I saw the dead bodies of four people but the number could be higher as the situation is still tense,” said another witness Mohamed Abdulahi.
Ali Isa, an official with a local group partnering with the WFP, said the UN agency had brought some 300 tonnes of food for the displaced at the camp set up by Somalia’s Western-backed government.
It was not immediately clear who the attackers were, but the area is in an area controlled by pro-government forces.
WFP confirmed that shooting had broken out at a food distribution centre for displaced people.
“Casualties have been reported, and we are working to clarify the details,” said WFP spokeswoman Susannah Nicol.
“This incident highlights the challenges that humanitarian agencies face in trying to deliver assistance in this difficult environment.”
The gunmen drove away some of the food trucks while other food was taken away on donkey carts.
The United Nations on Wednesday declared three more Somali areas, including Mogadishu and Afgoye to the west of the capital, were facing famine.
Other areas include the Balaad and Adale districts of Middle Shabelle. Last month the UN declared famine in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions in the south of Somalia due to a harsh drought in the Horn of Africa.
Most of the famine-hit areas are controlled by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels, who have been fighting to topple the government and banned several foreign aid groups from regions under their control.
Parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda have also been hit by the region’s worst drought in decades.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation called for urgent action Friday to save the lives of some 12 million people battling hunger.
In a statement, the FAO “warned that immediate action is needed to save the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers and pastoralists across the drought-struck Horn of Africa.”
Donors and governments have increased financial pledges towards the drought, with the Nordic countries ramping up their funding to $20 million (15 million euros).
China said Friday it was paying “close attention” to the Horn of Africa drought after top US House Democrat Nancy Pelosi urged it to do more.
Pelosi on Thursday urged China and Saudi Arabia to “step up their efforts” to relieve the effects of the extreme African drought.
Experts have warned that the famine ravaging parts of Somalia is likely to persist for the rest of the year and spread to the country’s entire southern region in the coming weeks.
The UN’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit termed drought-hit Somalia as “the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa’s worst food security crisis since Somalia’s 1991-92 famine.”