Under armed guard, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd led a European delegation through this war-shattered capital on Friday and said Somalia's famine is worsening.
Hurd acknowledged that the international community's response to the crisis has been slow and said, "U.N. agencies responsible for medical care should be here in Mogadishu taking charge" of hospitals, which are poorly staffed and woefully undersupplied.About 2 million Somalis face starvation, with the southwest desert region hardest hit. No one knows how many Somalis have died, but the Red Cross puts the figure above 100,000. The United Nations estimates 2,000 more are dying every day.
The United States and other countries have been airlifting tons of food to Somalia to try to save hundreds of thousands of people.
Much of the food has been looted by armed gangs before it reaches distribution points. U.N. troops to guard the shipments are scheduled to start arriving in Somalia next week, a U.N. official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the troops would be provided by Pakistan and would be flown in by the U.S. military in small groups. The full contingent of 500 troops is to be in place by Sept. 25 and will guard shipments only around Mogadishu, the capital, he said.
U.N. officials negotiated with the warring factions for months to win approval for the U.N. troops' deployment. The U.N. Security Council has approved plans to send 3,500 troops, but militia leader Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid has agreed only to 500 U.N. soldiers.
Hurd's convoy was escorted by "technicals," Somali lingo for the armed civilian guards who ride around in four-wheel-drive vehicles and pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on the back.
The famine in Somalia is due to drought as well as political chaos caused by devastating clan fighting.
During the four-hour visit Friday, the European officials toured a shantytown, one of dozens that have sprung up in the city as rural residents come in search of food.
They also stopped at two feeding centers, where hundreds of malnourished children were being served porridge cooked in huge black vats over open fires.
The delegation included Denmark's foreign minister, Uffe Elleman-Jensen. It was the most senior group of international officials to visit Somalia since dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted in January 1991 and the country began its descent into anarchy.
Hurd said his brief visit convinced him that aid agencies have been able to help the hungry in Mogadishu despite the widespread looting of food deliveries.
Mogadishu, which has the country's largest port, is getting the most food.