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U.S. aid begins to trickle into Somalia

 

Kate Snow / NBC News

A convoy of food aid from a group with U.S. ties arrives to help famine victims in Dobley, Somalia on Thursday.

By Kate Snow, NBC News Correspondent

DOBLEY, Somalia – The first thing you notice when you cross the border into Somalia is the number of men with guns. In Dobley, they are all fighting for the same team – the Somali Transitional Federal Government. And they are all armed to the teeth.

As we arrived as part of an aid convoy from Kenya, we passed the “Peace House” hotel, which stands empty now and is covered in pock marks where bullets hit. 

Until just a few months ago, the militant Islamic group al-Shabab controlled the town. Now it’s one of the few towns in southern Somalia controlled by the transitional government. Somalia, of course, hasn’t had a stable government in decades, and fighting rages on.


But in Dobley, the streets were quiet. Curious kids wandered over to meet our convoy.  They grinned and posed for our cameras. Men looked on warily, but returned our greetings.

We were there to cover one of the rare aid convoys from a group with U.S. ties to reach Somalia.The United Nations World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been delivering food in southern Somalia, but many American groups have avoided entering the country because of the security situation.

The Obama administration also assured aid groups on Tuesday that they could deliver food to famine-stricken parts of Somalia without fear of prosecution, even if some assistance ends up in the hands of Islamic extremists like al-Shabab. Humanitarian groups had long complained that the anti-terrorism measure was contributing to the food crisis. 

Much like the refugee camps father away in Kenya, Dobley has been a magnet for people fleeing famine and the violence.  A town elder told me they see about 700 new arrivals every day.  All of them arrive hungry.

With a tiny 7-month-old strapped to her back, Dahabo Ismael Abdeleh told me she had walked for 10 days from the town of Dinsor.  She arrived two days ago with her nine children.  She’s struggling to feed them.

“Is this all you have?” she asked as she looked at the trucks.

The convoy was organized by two small NGOs – The Global Enrichment Foundation out of Canada and The African Future, based in Virginia. 

Farah Abdi Warsameh / AP

A woman from southern Somalia holds her malnourished children at Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Tuesday. Click on the photo to launch a slideshow of photos.

The flour, rice, water, sugar, oil, dates and porridge delivered here Thursday should feed 14,000 people for the next two weeks. 

It’s not enough, they know. But at least it’s something.

US: 29,000 Somali children under 5 dead in famine

How to Help: A list of charitable organizations in Somalia

See more of Kate Snow's reporting from Somalia on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams Thursday.