While the group's leadership remains opposed to accepting aid from western agencies, moderate local commanders appear to be more willing to accept help, The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday. The online newspaper said UNICEF had permission from commanders in Baidoa, a southern city controlled by al-Shabaab, and other agencies are sounding out local leaders.
"I think the momentum is now with the people who are saying let the aid agencies come in because of the gravity of the situation," said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group. "The clan elders are also putting on a lot of pressure, saying we cannot let our people die, if you continue on this crazy path we will rise up against you."
UNICEF released a statement Wednesday calling for more international assistance for the region. It said it has a $200 million shortfall in funding for its relief program in eastern Africa, including $120 million in Somalia.
"In all, more than 11 million people desperately need help in the nations of eastern Africa stricken by drought, conflict and rising food prices," the group said. "If the world doesn't act quickly enough, some 566,000 children fighting severe malnutrition could lose their struggle to survive."