- The Red Cross hopes to reach 1.1 million people eventually
- The first round targets 72,000 people in the Gedo region
- The aid comes after negotiations with the Islamist Al-Shabaab
- Central and southern Somalia has been hard hit by war and drought
More than a million hungry Somalis living in southern and central areas hit hard by war and drought will start seeing much needed food distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency said Wednesday.
The first round of distributions of beans, oil and rice is expected to reach 72,000 people in the pastoral Gedo region.
The Red Cross is also hoping to deliver seed and fertilizer to 240,000 farmers ahead of the planting season and ready to harvest by the start of 2012.
"The people are waiting for the rain to come in one or two weeks," said Yves van Loo, the Geneva-based agency's spokesman in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
The distributions will take place deep in territory controlled by Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group with ties to al Qaeda that has waged war in order to establish a stricter form of Sharia, or Islamic law. The United States designates Al-Shabaab as foreign terrorist organization.
Van Loo said the food distribution is taking place after negotiations with the militants.
"Not everybody can talk to them," he said. "Our neutrality has been respected."
He said the Red Cross has local staff within the country who are able to access places that are barred for foreigners. The agency has worked within Somalia for the last 30 years and partners with the Somali Red Crescent.
The United Nations declared famine in six regions of Somalia, mainly in areas held by Al-Shabaab. It has been difficult for international aid agencies to reach a record 4 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The United Nations estimated last month that 750,000 people are in danger of imminent starvation.
In the summer, officials called for a surge in response efforts as the crisis grew worse. The Red Cross ratcheted up emergency operations in early August and asked donors for $87 million more.