WASHINGTON -- Much of the U.S. food aid going to famine-ravaged Somalia is corn and sorghum, which were chosen because they are less likely to be stolen by roving bands of armed thugs because Somalis don't much like them, according to President Bush's aid coordinator.
Andrew Natsios, assistant administrator of the Agency for International Development, said yesterday that the grains are ideal for free food distribution because they are nutritious enough to alleviate hunger but are not popular enough to command high black market prices.
He added that the aid will not cause farmers to stop planting the grains -- always a danger when food is given away -- because Somali farmers don't grow either crop.
"We must break the vicious cycle in Somalia where food equals money," he said. "Providing more food . . . will not only make it more affordable but it will also increase security."
Mr. Natsios, who just returned from an inspection trip to Somalia, said that the U.S. food airlift, which began last Friday, already has begun to ease the crisis, even though very little of the food has reached some critical areas. Food prices have declined, he said, and the flow of refugees to neighboring countries has dropped by 90 percent.
Although Somali food production has been reduced by drought, the main cause of starvation in the northeast African nation is the violence that followed the collapse of the nation's government. After the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre last year, the country has been at the mercy of militias loyal to rival warlords and to free-lance thugs.
Mr. Natsios said that conditions remain desperate in much of the country. For instance, no food has reached the village of Baidoa because it is a center of warlord violence. He said that the village has changed hands 10 times in the last year and every time new militia comes in, it steals all of the food that is available.
"Over the last several years, I have been witness to most of the major famines in the world and I can tell you that what I saw in Baidoa, Somalia, a few days ago is the worst in terms of human suffering that I have seen anywhere in the world," Mr. Natsios said.
Of the airlifted food, Mr. Natsios said about half will be sold and half given away.