A platoon of Ethiopian soldiers toting machine guns, RPGs and AK-47s slogs through the mid-day Mogadishu heat, patrolling along the Afgoye road, one of the main routes for refugees fleeing the embattled city. This morning there were two more bomb blasts downtown: the first woke me up fifteen minutes before my alarm. Now the road is packed with people. The Ethiopians keep it safe. They might not be able to secure the city, but at least they can secure a way out.
Before the current conflict began last year, there were more than 400,000 internally displaced persons in Somalia. Now there are a million. Most have settled in rural villages that were already too poor to feed their own people. Being so scattered makes reaching them with emergency aid a major challenge, according to U.N. World Food Program official Pete Smerdon, based in Nairobi. Less difficult are the few tens of thousands of refugees who have gathered in a clutch of small camps along the Afgoye road. Today there are long convoys of WFP trucks lined up to drop off U.S.-supplied bags of corn. Last month a spate of shootings at food distribution points briefly shuttered WFP operations in the area. This month, people in the camps will eat.
But it’s only temporary relief. A double whammy of drought and war has made Somalia one of the hungriest countries in the world, with a malnutrition rate higher than 15 percent. You can see it in the wizened eyes of Mogadishu children who’ve already suffered a lifetime of pain and desperation.