Starving refugees and their children from famine-stricken Somalia are dying on their way to aid centers, the chief of the United Nations World Food Program warns. Desperate mothers have been forced to abandon dead or dying children along "roads of death" as they trek for days, sometimes weeks, to seek help, Reuters reports. Food shortages caused by drought and regional conflict are affecting at least 12 million people in the area, and the UN warns that women and children are most at risk.
"I believe it is the children's famine, because the ones who are the weakest are the children, and those are the ones we're seeing are the least likely to make it," says food program boss Josette Sheeran. "We've heard of women making the horrible choice of leaving behind their weaker children to save the stronger ones or having children die in their arms." Some of the worst-hit areas are controlled by Islamic militants who have banned food aid, threatened relief groups, and even denied that a famine is taking place. The UN plans to airlift emergency rations into those areas.