Security still poses a serious threat to delivering aid in Somalia [Al Jazeera]
The United Nations' refugee agency has flown aid into the war-torn capital of Somalia for the first time in five years, as the country battles with a devastating famine.
The flight left from Dubai on Monday morning with 31 metric tons of emergency supplies and arrived in Mogadishu that afternoon, according to Andy Needham from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
He said there would be another two aid flights to Mogadishu - one on Thursday and another next week.
"The reason why we are doing this emergency airlift today is that because of the unprecedented situation, the massive levels of displacement of people by drought and famine into Mogadishu," Needham said from the tarmac of the airport in Mogadishu.
More than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of immediate food aid, including nearly half of Somalia's population.
The UN has declared five famine zones in Somalia, including the camps for displaced people in Mogadishu, the capital.
Famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
"The situation is better in the Somali capital, where about half the city's 600,000 inhabitants are receiving aid," Mark Bowden, the UN's top humanitarian official for Somalia, said on a visit to Mogadishu on Monday.
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Transport and security are the two main problems, he said, and it is unclear what the effect will be of the withdrawal of al-Shabab fighters from their bases in the capital on Saturday.
There have been several serious gunfights at aid distributions recently, and at least 10 people have been killed.
The African Union peacekeeping mission in the country has said it is confident that al-Shabab will not return to the capital.
The group was driven out of the area during heavy fighting on Friday night but it has vowed to change tactics and stage a comeback, though the AU has dismissed this as propaganda.
Amid the crisis, the US is preparing to announce $100 million in new famine aid.
To highlight the crisis, the wife of US vice-president Joe Biden visited a refugee camp on a patch of desert in eastern Kenya where tens of thousands of Somalis have massed.
A drought has turned into famine because little aid can reach the al-Shabab-controlled south-central of the country.
Jill Biden is the highest-profile US visitor to East Africa since the number of refugees coming across the Somali border dramatically increased in July.
More than 29,000 children under the age of five have died in the last 90 days in southern Somalia alone, according to US estimates.
The UN says 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished; suggesting the death toll of small children will rise.
USAID administrator Raj Shah, who accompanied Biden, said hundreds of thousands of children could die from the famine.
South Africa assists
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the appeal for funds to respond to the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa region - including Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti - are only 44 per cent covered, with an additional $1.4bn still required to cover unmet needs.
An estimated 12.4 million people in the entire region are in need of assistance, according to OCHA.
The South African government has donated about $290,000 (2 million rands) in food and monetary aid, said Clayson Monyela, the spokesman for the South African department of international relations and co-operation.
He said the country had developed a "co-ordinated and multi-pronged response" to the famine, which included working with the South African department of agricultural affairs to ask farmers to get involved in relief efforts.
Gift of the Givers, a South African-based humanitarian organisation, has also arrived in Somalia to assist with the crisis.
The team comprising of 20 medics and 12 journalists was part of an entourage that brought specialised paediatric ready-to-drink milk supplements, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, malaria medication, and other medical supplies.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies