At least 15 Durban-based doctors have offered their services to the local welfare group, the Gift of the Givers Foundation, as it prepares for a mercy flight to tsunami victims in Somalia.
The foundation's director, Dr Imtiaaz Sooliman, said they would be taking 40 tons of food, medical supplies and water as soon as they got the green light from the United Nations.
He said it would take three days to unload the plane, giving the doctors time to treat the Somalis.
Sooliman, who gave up his medical career to work full-time at the foundation, said they had wanted to go to Somalia earlier but it was difficult to find partners in that country to help them distribute the aid.
"There's no government in Somalia and if food gets into the wrong hands it could lead to conflict," he said.
Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said yesterday that about 54 000 people in Somalia were in desperate need of assistance.
Ndungane is visiting the region with the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Molefe Tsele.
He said in a statement that he was briefed in Nairobi on Tuesday by Fred Nyabera, director of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa.
Nyabera said the damage from the tsunami in Somalia had been aggravated by the previous years of war, drought, flooding in early 2004 and "abysmal" poverty.
Areas badly affected lay between Hafun and Garacad in Puntland in north-eastern Somalia.
"An estimated 54 000 people in this area are in desperate need of assistance," Ndungane said.
"About 2 000 houses have been destroyed and families displaced and hundreds of fishing boats as well as fishing equipment lost.
"This has been a major setback as fishing is the sole livelihood of residents in this area.
"Preliminary reports from the ground indicate that the population in the affected areas is badly traumatised with a number still in shock and many people unable to sleep or eat properly."
Latrines had been washed away and wells contaminated, which could lead to outbreaks of diarrhoea, dysentery and other water-borne diseases.
There had already been reports of acute respiratory infection, eye sores, measles and diarrhoea.
The archbishop said he would be meeting Somalia's President Ahmed Yusuf in Nairobi. Yusuf operated from the Kenyan capital because of the instability in his country.
Ndungane, Tsele, Nyabera and a representative of the All Africa Conference of Churches plan to fly into Somalia in a light aircraft this morning.
Ndungane is carrying a cheque for about R450 000 which is part of the R1.1 million raised by southern African Anglicans for tsunami relief.
This initial amount will be disbursed to areas in most need by the All Africa Conference of Churches.
Meanwhile the Gift of the Givers Foundation had also committed $500 000 to Somalia and another $500 000 to Sri Lanka.
Sooliman said until recently all the foundation's money had come from Muslims, but after the tsunami people from all backgrounds were donating generously.
"People are beginning to realise that although we are a Muslim organisation we are not a religious organisation," said Sooliman.
He said that it was important to help the tsunami-affected countries because South Africa was part of the global community.
Gift of the Givers Foundation is involved in 20 projects and has also raised a R2-million aid package for victims of the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal.
Details of the projects and donations can be found on www.giftofthegiver.co.za