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The Grisly Scenes Behind Somalia’s Statistics With PM-Somalia-Starving, Bjt

August 28, 1992

BAIDOA, Somalia (AP) _ On the blacktop road to Baidoa, a sun-baked corpse lies in the center, the chest emptied by vultures. It might have been a bullet, a bus or hunger. In Somalia, no one stops to find out.

Scores of thousands have died this year, another 2,000 more with every sunrise. A million may follow. But beyond the numbing statistics, the impact comes one death at a time.

In Baidoa, Amina Sheikh Mohamed, a nurse, stood in the yard of a feeding center and told a visitor that six children had died that day. A man spoke softly in her ear, and her face clouded.

″Make that seven,″ she said.

Under the dappled shade of a tree, Samow Sheikh squatted by the latest victim, his 14-year-old daughter, Habiba. He tried to close her mouth, which had locked open in death.

Before she joined the statistics, Habiba spent months of agony wasting away, with scant water and less food. When she died, she looked 7.

″You see this again and again, and you want to help, but you can’t,″ said Amina, 30, a nurse with four kids of her own. ″We need medicine, we need food, we need everything.″

The feeding center, run by the Irish voluntary agency Concern, is a microcosm of what war, drought and international neglect have made of this nation of 6.5 million people.

It is yet another circle of Somali hell but far from the worst. In most places, starving children have only their parents’ soothing touch, if that.

For a while, Habiba lay in the open courtyard, one of several bundles of blanket with tiny toes protruding from one end. Then a bright blue wheelbarrow marked ″UNICEF″ arrived, and she was gone.

Her father, a farmer, brought his family to Baidoa from a village 25 miles farther west. He left three other children with his wife in town.

″I’m afraid to go back in case they are dead,″ he said.

Amina turned to a young mother gazing devotedly at the child in her arms. At nine months, he looked like a wizened old man.

″He may be next,″ she said. ″We need IVs, but look, this is all I could get from the hospital next door.″ She pointed to three empty drip-solution bags hanging from the tree. ″They have nothing either.″

Baidoa is only three hours’ drive west on a paved road from Mogadishu, the capital, but until recently there was nothing to bring and no way to bring it.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N. World Food Program have been airlifting food and sending more in trucks that bristle with guns. But armed gangs continue to loot perhaps half of what gets here.

″Mogadishu shows some improvement, but here it stagnates, for all the agencies trying to help,″ said Dominique Noury of the French Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), which is sending a team.

Helping is risky work in Baidoa. On the shot-up main street, a jeep labeled International Medical Corps carries a .50-caliber machine gun on the roof.

U.S. officials said in mid-August that American aircraft would shuttle huge stocks of food to Baidoa. But veteran relief workers on the ground warn that bringing food is the easiest part, and the wrong approach could spark warfare over spoils.

Clan militias and freelance gangs might overpower guards hired by the the U.N.

″You must consider that some of these guards might also be looters,″ said Seifulaziz Milas, a Mozambican who is UNICEF’s adviser on Somalia.

Relief officials also fear that if too much is done here, Baidoa will draw desperate refugees from remote areas, depopulating villages and overwhelming the town.

Although many of Baidoa’s nearly 100,000 inhabitants fled warfare and famine earlier this year, the city now is twice its normal size with people who have come here expecting salvation.

″Everyday, more,″ said Abdi Kader Hassan, a volunteer at a camp on the edge of town where 13,000 people huddle out of the sun in huts of thorn bushes and scavenged scraps.

Once a day, families of up to 20 people get Red Cross rations: two pounds of dry rice and beans, with barely enough water to cook it. The water must also suffice for drinking and washing.

A few weeks ago, they arrived at a rate of 20 families a day, camp officials said. Now it is closer to 70 a day. Daily deaths, if decreasing somewhat because of the food, still approach 40.

Altogether, Somali Red Crescent teams collect 200 to 300 corpses a day around Baidoa, from the refugee centers, as well as others like the unknown victim on the Baidoa road.

Every one of them saddens Amina Sheikh Mohamed, at the Concern children’s center.

Asked how long the nightmare would last, she shook her head solemnly.

″If we can find some honest people, maybe it will be over in six months,″ she said. ″If not, maybe longer.′

DS-08-28-92 0039EDT