In the southwestern Somalian town of Baidoa—ironically, the heart of a once-fertile river valley that bloomed with fields of sorghum—corpses litter the ground. The living are so hungry they are chewing their clothing. Many of the skeletal human beings wander the streets like zombies, stumbling hazardously through traffic without noticing the moving vehicles.

“It’s common to die,” says a relief worker at Golweyn camp, a fly-infested refuge for almost 4,000 people that is operated by the French aid organization Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). “Everybody is suffering. This is something unimaginable.”

United Nations estimates in early September said that 5,000 people are dying each day in Somalia. Everywhere people are on the move, walking desolate roads from one place to another seeking food.

Many flock into Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital and its largest city. Not long ago the city of 700,000 people was a somewhat shabby but charming Italian colonial capital on the sunny shore of the Indian Ocean. Now it is a ruin, buildings pocked by gunfire, shade trees shot to stumps for target practice. Swelled by some 300,000 displaced people, it has become a death camp.

Violent anarchy rules in Mogadishu, as throughout the country. Since January of 1991, when rebel groups drove former President Siad Barre out of the country, clan warlords have split the city into explosive segments. Pickup trucks cruise the streets with machine guns mounted on their beds, looking for food or a fight. Some trucks sport antiaircraft cannons. Half the male population over the age of 14 carry guns. The snap and pop of gunfire fills the air day and night.

When starving rural people arrive in Mogadishu hoping for food, they find street stalls selling ...

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