|This was the first airlift of food aid since the UN declared famine in parts of Somalia last week [AFP]
The World Food Programme airlifted tonnes of emergency supplies to Mogadishu to feed thousands of malnourished children in drought-stricken Somalia, officials said.
A plane carrying 10 tonnes of peanut butter-based nutritional paste flew from neighbouring Kenya to the Somali capital on Wednesday, David Orr, a WFP official who was on the flight, said.
This was the first airlift of food aid since the United Nations declared a famine in parts of Somalia last week, Orr said.
Airlifts were to begin on Tuesday to Mogadishu, from Dolo in Ethiopia and Wajir in Kenya but they were delayed by one day due to administrative complications.
Orr has said the series of delivers will not stop once they are launched, as "they will just keep coming and coming in an ongoing operation".
Challiss McDonough, a WFP spokeswoman, said Wednesday’s shipment of nutritional paste will feed 3,500 malnourished children for one month.
McDonough said WFP decided to send in the airlift because of an urgent need to treat the growing number of internally displaced children suffering from malnutrition before their condition deteriorates.
About 18,000 children are suffering from malnutrition and the number is expected to grow to 25,000, she said, adding that the WFP cannot reach 2.2 million people in need of aid in the militant-controlled areas in southern Somalia because of insecurity.
Somalia has been embroiled in conflict for two decades since the last leader was overthrown by warlords who then turned on each other.
Groups have spent the last few years battling the weak UN-backed government in an attempt to overthrow it.
Al-Shabab, the Muslim group which controls large areas of southern Somalia, forced the WFP to pull out from the region in early 2010.
The bulk of Somalia's drought-affected people are in the country's southern regions.
Last week it said it will not allow the aid groups to operate in its territories, exacerbating the drought crisis.
Scale of the disaster
The drought in southern Somalia has deteriorated so badly, it has created a triangle of hunger in the Horn of Africa, where the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet.
A handful of relief groups were however spared the insurgents' ban, but have been struggling to cope with the rising numbers of people in need of humanitarian aid.
At the weekend, the International Red Cross said it had handed out 400 tonnes of food in drought-hit areas controlled by the hardline Shebab rebels, the first ICRC-led drops into such areas since 2009.
The UN declared famine last week in two southern Somalia regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, where up to 350,000 people are at risk of starvation.
In Nairobi, a team of humanitarian organisations met with donors to streamline operations to assist victims of the drought that has also hit parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.
Earlier this month the group had shown indications of wavering on its 2009 ban on certain aid groups in its territories.
Last week, the UN declared famine in two southern Somalia regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, where up to 350,000 people are at risk of starvation.
WFP estimates more than 11.3 million people need aid across drought-hit regions in East Africa.
The majority of those affected live in pastoral communities whose herds have been wiped out because of a lack of water.
The UN has received $1bn since launching an appeal for the region in November 2010, but needs a billion more by the end of the year to stave off widespread starvation.
Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from Rome, said: "The UN wants firm commitments from anyone who is saying, 'yes we will pledge money'."
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has called on donor countries to come up with $1.6bn in aid for the two regions of southern Somalia designated by the UN as famine zones.
For its part, the World Bank pledged on Monday more than $500m for the region, with the bulk of the money going towards long-term projects to aid farmers.
However, $12m will be immediately released for relief projects for those worst hit by the drought.