UN: Somalia freezes aid operations in south-east

The Somali government has frozen aid activities in a south-eastern region most affected by the country’s growing humanitarian crisis, a United Nations spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday.

The new restrictions ban all humanitarian flights to the Lower Shabelle region’s airports and effectively put a halt on the delivery of a food shipment that arrived on Tuesday under French navy escort, World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson Peter Smerdon said.

The government had imposed “new restrictions” on all UN agencies and NGOs operating in the Lower Shabelle area, Smerdon said in Merka, a regional port about 100km south of the capital, Mogadishu.

Lower Shabelle is considered the breadbasket of Somalia but has yielded its worst crops in 13 years, causing food shortages that have been compounded by influx of hundreds of thousands displaced by fighting in the capital.

Two ships loaded with close to 4 000 tonnes of WFP food aid destined for camps housing the displaced had arrived in Merka from Kenya earlier on Tuesday.

“We are all banned from moving in this area,” Smerdon said. The restrictions were announced in a statement read by the government’s security chief, quoting a decision by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.

“No reason has been given by the authorities. The two ships that have arrived today [Tuesday] in Merka are blocked and cannot be unloaded.
There can be no plane movement in any airport of the region, including K50,” he said.

K50 is an airport located 50km south of Mogadishu and the preferred landing site for humanitarian flights.

“All ports and airports are now closed as of today for UN and NGO movements. They think we should use Mogadishu seaport,” he added.

“We have tried to talk officially to the authorities but we haven’t yet. We’ll urge them to change their stance and let us continue our work,” he added.

The WFP shipments had arrived safely under French navy escort to protect them from rampant piracy off the Somali coast.—AFP

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