Pretoria - Two planes carrying a South African medical team, including dieticians, paediatricians and food supplies, have landed in famine-hit Somalia.
Humanitarian group Gift of the Givers, who landed there on Monday, is taking 41 tons of water, food and medicines and has put together a medical team comprising three paediatricians, five general practitioners, two medical practitioners specialising in reproductive health, a paramedic skilled in primary healthcare and six dietitians.
They will be assisting with relief efforts in the east African country's capital, Mogadishu. UN humanitarian agencies last month declared outright famine in two areas of southern Somalia.
Millions are said to be starving as the Horn of Africa battles its worst famine and drought in decades, while thousands have reportedly fled the country.
The organisation's Imtiaz Sooliman said the team said is prepared to deal with severe cases of malnutrition.
"The supplies are high end specialised paediatric ready-to-drink milk supplements, high energy and protein ready-to-eat food supplements for children and adults; intravenous fluids, antibiotics, malaria medication, a range of other medical supplies, food items, sanitary pads, personal hygiene items and bottled water," Sooliman said.
He said initially, they only had enough funds and stock for one flight to Somalia. However, there are now two heading out later this week.
The other one departs on Thursday, and the while the other departs on Monday, 8 August.
Sooliman said South Africans have shown ubuntu and generously donated to the cause.
"South African society have opened their hearts for their suffering brethren in Africa; this is truly an African response to an African problem," he said, giving thanks to and gratitude on behalf of the millions of suffering Somali people for contributions, and ongoing prayers.
To get more information on how to make a donations to the Gif of the Givers, call their toll-free number on 0800 786 911.
Meanwhile, the United Nations humanitarian chief warned that the famine in Somalia could spread if the international community does not provide the funds required to respond to the hunger crisis, which, she said, had claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.
"Unless we see a massive increase in response, the famine will spread to five or six more regions," Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters at UN Headquarters on Monday.
"Tens of thousands of Somalis have already died and hundreds of thousands face starvation," she said.
She said the drought in the Horn of Africa, which has also ravaged large areas of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, leaving an estimated 12.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid, is the worst in 60 years.
Amos said that early warning systems had predicted the drought last year following which humanitarian agencies appealed for $1.6 billion.
"As of mid-year, around half of that money had been raised, and as of last week donors had committed more than $1 billion," said Amos.
"It is not enough," she added. "But neither was the crisis ignored as some have suggested. And even as we ask ourselves some important questions we can't allow those to distract from the task at hand. We need to deal with the here and now as well as with the longer term."
She said $1.4 billion is needed immediately to enable relief organisations to scale up response to the hunger crisis in the region. Ms. Amos urged traditional donors, who, she said, have already contributed generously, to provide additional resources, while appealing to corporations, foundations and private individuals to assist as well.