Turkish PM Pays Landmark Visit to Famine-Hit Somalia

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Mogadishu Friday for the first visit by a major leader in nearly two decades to witness the devastation wrought by a famine in the Somali capital.

Somalia is the country worst affected in the Horn of Africa by a prolonged drought that has been officially declared a famine by the United Nations in five regions in the country, including Mogadishu itself.

Erdogan, who is accompanied by four ministers, was to tour a camp for the displaced and a hospital in Mogadishu, where more than 100,000 people have fled to recently to seek relief from the drought.

The visit follows Wednesday's meeting in Istanbul by members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation who pledged to donate $350 million to assist the drought- and famine-stricken Somalis.

Security was tightened in Mogadishu, a city that has been battered by bloody insurgency by the al-Qaida-affiliated Shebab rebels fighting to unseat the Western-backed Somali government.

Passengers on a plane carrying a delegation accompanying Erdogan had a narrow escape when they landed at Mogadishu airport as the right wing of the aircraft scraped the runway, according to Turkey's Anatolia news agency.

No one was injured from the delegation which includes business leaders, lawmakers, musicians and security guards, Anatolia said.

In Mogadishu, the influx by desperate families seeking help has altered the city's landscape, with hundreds of small stick and plastic shelters springing up in open spaces.

The city's hospitals have also been overwhelmed with emaciated adults and malnourished children, many of whom have succumbed to the harshness of the Horn of Africa's worst drought in decades.

Relief agencies have boosted aid delivery to the affected population, but insecurity in one of the world's most dangerous countries is hobbling a wider reach.

The World Food Program said Friday it had airlifted 120 tons of a peanut-based paste for malnourished children and 24 tons of high energy biscuits to Mogadishu and some southern regions.

"This has provided nutritional support to 30,000 people either just arriving in Mogadishu or crossing borders into Kenya and Ethiopia," the agency said in a statement.

Rising cases of cholera and acute diarrhea has compounded the misery of the drought-hit Somalis, the World Health Organization and the U.N. children's agency said Thursday.

Some 4,272 cases of cholera or acute watery diarrhea have been reported in Mogadishu's Banadir hospital alone since January, the agencies said.

The disease has also been confirmed in four southern Somalia regions and the number of cases has risen.

Cholera is endemic in Somalia but the last major outbreak dates back to 2007 when 67,000 cases were recorded.

Aid agencies have warned that the whole of southern Somalia could be hit by famine in the coming weeks.

The U.N.'s food monitoring unit has described Somalia as facing the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world and Africa's worst food security crisis since the country's 1991-1992 famine.

Source: Agence France Presse

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