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Feeding Somalia

In an on-scene report, the official who is in charge of America's relief effort describes `the most desperate human suffering I have ever seen'

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SEVERAL weeks ago, 600 people lived in a village near Belet Weyne, in western Somalia. By last week, the population had swelled to 7,000. Why? Because of rumors that food would soon be in that area.

Two years ago, you could buy a kilo bag of rice in Belet Weyne's market for 35,000 Somali shillings ($5). Last summer, as drought and fighting among the Somali clans restricted food supplies, the price of rice skyrocketed to more than 300,000 shillings per bag, then dropped to 120,000 shillings last month. The day before the United States Department of Defense started its airlift of American food, the price of rice plummeted to 80,000 shillings (about $11) - still too high.

Recently some armed teenage hoodlums moved into the area and began raping women and looting food. Local clan leaders, attempting to end their violent rampage, designated the most respected clan elder to meet with the young men. The teenagers blew his head off.

These three stories illustrate the kind of environment in which the US Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense, the United Nations, and a host of private voluntary organizations have been trying to provide food and medical assistance to the people of Somalia.

Despite horrendous obstacles, much has been accomplished. In the more than 18 months that the US has been involved in humanitarian relief activities in Somalia, we have committed more than $85 million; more than 80,000 tons of American food either have arrived or will be in Somalia within the next few months. The US alone has donated 57 percent of the food that has moved into Somalia during the past year.

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