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2 WRETCHED FAMILIES BECOME STATISTICS IN FAR-OFF RELIEF EFFORT

Hawa Hirab has buried a husband and seven children in the last two years. After an armed gang took everything she had a year ago and her 6-year-old son starved in July, Hirab gave up.

Hirab, 40, took her four surviving children, two also on the verge of starvation, and began a desperate 12-day trek out of Somalia. She was joined by a 25-year-old friend, Hawa Ibrahim, also a widow, and her four children.Ibrahim was left without possessions in the same bandit raid that cost Hirab's family everything. The gunmen left a few animals, but soon they were gone too - some eaten, some starved.

The two wretched families crossed together into Kenya, lured by the promise of food, shelter and peace.

Nasir Fernandes, a Kenyan official in the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the women fled Somalia after hearing "by the jungle telegraph there was food here."

And that's how Hirab and Ibrahim became statistics in a drama the world thinks of in terms of tons of relief food delivered and daily death tolls.

Even their arrival Tuesday was a statistic: 38 families, 156 people - two of the lowest daily totals in months.

What is happening in Somalia is largely the result of 21 years of misrule by dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and the anarchy that followed his ouster last January.

But to the victims - people like Hirab and Ibrahim - it's too complex to understand.

Who is responsible? Ibrahim was asked, as she and Hirab stood beneath a leafless acacia tree on the safe side of a 330-foot-wide no-man's land between Kenya and Somalia.

Is it Siad Barre? The warlords who replaced him?

"I don't know who brought this trouble," Ibrahim said, through Fernandes' translation. "I think God brought it."

Why would God do that?

"God knows," she said.