Somalia too dangerous for aid work, say agencies

Top international aid agencies warned on Wednesday that war-scarred Somalia has become too dangerous for its workers to help more than one million civilians living rough, as fresh fighting erupted.

Four Somali soldiers and two civilians were killed when Islamist fighters raided the town of Jowhar, near Mogadishu, officials said.

Thirty-nine organisations, including Oxfam, World Vision and Save the Children, issued their warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe ahead of a United Nations Security Council debate on Thursday on the strife-torn Horn of Africa country.

The groups first issued a warning about their work in October.

“Since then, the crisis engulfing Somalia has deteriorated dramatically while access to people in need continues to decrease; 360 000 people have been newly displaced and an additional half a million people are reliant on humanitarian assistance,” they said in a statement.

“There are now more than one million internally displaced people in Somalia. Intense conflict in Mogadishu continues to force an average of 20 000 people from their homes each month,” they added.

The Security Council has reviewed options for increased UN involvement in Somalia but key members have ruled out an early deployment of a fully fledged peacekeeping force.

Options include relocating Nairobi-based UN personnel dealing with Somalia to Mogadishu; boosting the UN presence in the country; deploying up to 28 500 UN troops and police or sending an estimated 8 000-strong “stabilisation force”.

The aid agencies said that the plight of Somali civilians forced from their homes has been exacerbated by other factors.

“Record high food prices, hyper-inflation and drought in large parts of the country are leaving communities struggling to survive,” they said.

The report said families left in the capital, Mogadishu, or “the poorest of the poor who did not have the means to flee”, earned $12,13 a month on average.

“Assuming the average family size in Somalia is 6,9, this works out as $1,76 per person per month—or six cents per person per day. This will buy someone three bread rolls.”

The humanitarian relief efforts have been exacerbated by lawlessness and rising insecurity, they warned.

“Attacks on, and killings of, aid workers, the looting of relief supplies and a lack of respect for international humanitarian law by all parties have left two million Somalis in need of basic humanitarian assistance.”

The report cited a UN evaluation as saying that “efforts to assist the people of Somalia have never been as restricted as they are now”.

It spoke of “administrative delays, restrictions or delays in movement of goods, targeting of humanitarian workers, targeting of civil society and media, localised disputes/competition over resources [and a] lack of will and/or ability by authorities to address security incidents within their control”.

The statement urged the international community to create pressure to ensure access for aid supplies, the safety of civilians and the end of killings and violence that have prevailed since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

“The humanitarian crisis will become more and more complex and will continue to deepen in the absence of a political solution to the current crisis,” the statement added.

Ethiopian forces who helped oust the Islamist militants early last year and are now deployed in Mogadishu have failed to stem the tide of violence that has choked humanitarian operations.—AFP

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