Hunger, clan warfare take many in Somalia People lie in streets, too weak to move.

April 14, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Nearly everyone in this war-ravaged city has the glazed eyes and hollow cheeks of hunger, even the fighters who have the greatest chance of gaining access to food.

The sight of women, children and the elderly lying in the streets, too weak with hunger to rise from where they had fallen, is common. Most are too feeble even to beg, but that is irrelevant because there is no food to be had anyway.

Mogadishu is on the brink of starvation, compounding the massive human tragedy already being played out in the world's worst disaster zone.

No supplies have reached the city in four months, and with hungry, heavily armed bandits roaming the streets, any attempt to bring in relief aid without a political solution to Mogadishu's clan warfare would provoke a blood bath, relief workers say.

Even though a shaky cease-fire is holding, about 100 people are killed or wounded daily, usually over food.

"Everyone in Mogadishu is hungry and everyone is armed," said Sam Toussie, a relief worker with International Medical Corps, a private U.S. charity.

The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million people are at high risk of starvation in Somalia, a country of 6 million that has disintegrated over the past year into a chaotic patchwork of warring clans and refugees. Three million more are believed to be suffering from malnutrition.

In Mogadishu alone, about 40,000 people were killed or wounded from November to February in fierce factional fighting that destroyed what little was left of the city. More than half the city's 1.2 million residents took refuge in the surrounding desert.

There are no reliable figures for the numbers who already have died of hunger.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates there are 300,000 children in Mogadishu alone in urgent need of emergency food supplies.

"We're barely scratching the surface," said Kathy Skinner, a nurse with Save the Children Fund.

No political solution is in sight. A UN plan to send in observers to secure a cease-fire, followed by shipments of food, has yet to be approved by the Security Council, which is balking at the cost of yet another peacekeeping operation.

In the meantime, Somalia is growing hungrier, more desperate and more dangerous.

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