The United Nations’s top aid official, John Holmes, arrived in Somalia on Monday, calling for more to be done to help the Horn of Africa country where almost 6 000 civilians have been killed in fighting this year.
Holmes was expected to press President Abdullahi Yusuf and new Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein for help in getting aid to thousands of Somalis uprooted by clashes between government troops, backed by Ethiopian military, and Islamist insurgents.
UN officials say Somalia’s humanitarian crisis is Africa’s worst, with one million people displaced and efforts to supply food to the needy impeded by rampant piracy and closed borders.
”There has been a response but we need to do more. It is very hard for aid agencies to operate in Somalia because of the general security situation,” Holmes said.
”There are checkpoints everywhere and aid agencies are stopped at these points and at times charged a lot of money. This is what I intend to discuss with the president and the prime minister.”
The interim government, struggling to assert its authority over a nation mired in lawlessness since 1991, promised in April to clear obstacles to delivering aid after Holmes complained about red tape and restrictions.
On his second visit to Somalia this year, Holmes visited camps sheltering displaced families close to Mogadishu. Wearing a flak jacket in the blistering heat, he spoke to some of those living in the makeshift dwellings of worn clothing and sticks.
”We have been fighting against one another for over a decade, but people have not been fleeing at such a high rate,” said Hassan Farah, a father of 13.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the UN Security Council on Monday to press Ethiopia and Somalia to stop ”grave human rights abuses that are fuelling the worsening humanitarian crisis” in Somalia and Ethiopia’s ethnically Somali Ogaden region.
The New York-based group noted that clashes intensified in November and were marked by increasing brutality towards civilians, including ”summary executions and enforced disappearances of individuals by Ethiopian forces”.
Ethiopia has denied carrying out any crimes.
”Key governments are ignoring the rampant human rights abuses in Somalia at their own peril,” HRW said. ”Their action is a catastrophe for victims today, and it’s also likely to radicalise younger Somalis and create tomorrow’s fighters.”
A contingent of African Union soldiers has failed to stem the violence from a government-led offensive to hunt insurgents responsible for almost-daily roadside bombings and grenade attacks.
UN Security Council members said last month it was vital to keep planning for a possible UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia, despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s view that such a force is unrealistic at this time.
”What we can do now is plan for a possible mission to Somalia and help the African Union forces in Somalia … but at the moment it is very hard to even send a fact-finding mission to Mogadishu,” Holmes said.
His visit comes a day after Prime Minister Hussein named an ”all-inclusive Cabinet” and called for talks with Eritrea-based opponents to end an Islamist-led insurgency — raising hopes that security may be re-established. — Reuters