The drought that has swept over the Horn of Africa has ravaged several countries, but none more so than Somalia. Many Somalis, most of them women and children, have walked for days across a parched landscape seeking food and shelter. The U.N. has begun airlifting emergency supplies into the Somali capital Mogadishu, and the arrival of food has been followed now by an outbreak of violence. Many other places are also in urgent need of food.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from a remote outpost in Western Somalia.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Another day, another flight, another VIP delegation meeting and greeting local government officials. This time it's the U.N. World Food Program on an assessment mission to Doloow in Somalia, near the border with Ethiopia. Thousands of Somalis are flooding into Doloow in search of food, shelter and medical care, like Abdir Hussein.

Ms. ABDIR HUSSEIN: (Through Translator) There is famine in Bakool. That's why I came here. Because of the drought, that's why we have been forced to come out from Bakool and to come here. I haven't got any food yet.

QUIST-ARCTON: Some of the women we've been speaking to here have said that they have walked for days, that they have lost all their livestock, that their children are going hungry, that they are going hungry. Josette Sheeran is the head of the United Nations World Food Program. She says the children are the priority.

Ms. JOSETTE SHEERAN (United Nations World Food Program): Our focus, really, is on the people that have not had access to the help and aid and trying to be able to reach those who are in dire need of the help.

QUIST-ARCTON: The landscape in Doloow is bleak and dusty, with occasional thorn trees offering some shade to dozens of families, squatting and sitting beneath. The sandy, rocky soil yields very little vegetation. Nearby, a one-man operation has rigged up a mini water tank at the back of a donkey cart. A line quickly forms as a young boy struggles to keep up with requests to fill buckets and water bottles. The Doloow District Commissioner, Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur, says this is an emergency.

Mr. ABDIRASHID HASSAN ABDINUR (Doloow District Commissioner): (Through Translator) The famine in Somalia, especially the one in Doloow, this district, it needs really an urgent support. We hope for practical action.

QUIST-ARCTON: Desperate Somalis are crossing in their thousands into neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. But they're also heading to the capital, Mogadishu. The city is divided: one part controlled by Somalia's weak U.N. and U.S.-backed interim administration. Other areas of Mogadishu and Somalia are in the hands of the anti-Western, al-Qaida-affiliated militant Islamist group, al-Shabaab.

Somalia's Prime Minister, Abdi Weli Mohamed Ali, is appealing for international food aid deliveries to all areas. Last year, al-Shabaab banned the U.N.'s emergency food agency from operating in areas it controls in Somalia, accusing the World Food Program of pushing a pro-Western agenda. Yesterday, the WFP began a series of emergency airlifts to Mogadishu, carrying 10 tons of a peanut-based therapeutic supplement for malnourished children. Regional spokesman, David Orr, was on board the first flight.

Mr. DAVID ORR (Regional Spokesman, World Food Program): I understand we're reaching about 18,000 children. There is, of course, security concerns here in Mogadishu, as everywhere, but this is an emergency and we go about the business as well as we can.

QUIST-ARCTON: The U.N. and humanitarian groups warn there's a funding shortfall of more than $1.5 billion and are appealing for cash urgently to be able save more lives in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Doloow, Somalia.

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