The United Nations Children’s Fund is asking airlines to contribute cargo space for free, or at a heavily discounted price, as it desperately tries to ship food and supplies to the Horn of Africa.  The effects of severe drought in areas of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya have resulted in a humanitarian crisis which could cost the lives of tens of thousands if aid is not made immediately available.

Among the airlines that have already said they will help are Lufthansa, British Airways, Cargolux and UPS Virgin and UNICEF is appealing to other carriers to follow suit. Thousands have already succumbed to the hunger crisis and agencies within the UN are trying to raise $1.4 billion to help deal with the situation.

Valerie Amos, UN humanitarian chief, warned that the famine in Somalia’s south could quickly spread without a massive injection of aid. UNICEF spokeswoman, Marixie Mercado, said that many of the 2.3 million starving children could die within a matter of weeks unless food is made available. She explained that the price of flying supplies often costs as much as the supplies themselves.

UNICEF is also setting up a system for transporting the food by sea, but warned that this takes time. Director of emergency programmes at UNICEF, Louis-Georges Arsenault, said he believed that there was enough goodwill among the airlines to provide the much needed support.

Attempts to get food to the people of Somalia are being hampered by the continuing unrest in Mogadishu. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, some 100,000 people have been forced into the war-torn city because of famine and drought.