Aid Groups Cautious as Al-Shabab Militants Pull Out of Somali Capital

Somali refugees at a camp in Dadaab, Kenya for people displaced by the severe doubt in the Horn of Africa. Photo by: B. Bannon / UNHCR

Aid groups and the United Nations remain doubtful of the security situation in Somalia’s capital city. This comes despite the al-Shabab militant group’s withdrawal of its forces from the city, a move that the Somali prime minister said could help speed up humanitarian aid operations in the area.

“I am very pleased to learn of the progress made over the last several days on the security situation in Mogadishu,” Augustine Mahiga, the top U.N. official in Somalia, said. “But as we look forward, it is important that we acknowledge that real security risks, including from terrorist attacks, remain and must not be underestimated.”

Al-Shabab forces pulled out of Mogadishu on Saturday, leaving the city in the hands of the Transitional Federal Government led by Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, news agencies say. A spokesperson for al-Shabab, however, said the group “will be back soon.” The withdrawal from Mogadishu is for “tactical purposes,” the spokesperson said, according to The New York Times.

Al-Shabab still controls parts of southern Somalia, where the U.N. has declared a famine in several areas. The militant group has banned several organizations, including the World Food Program, from areas under its control.

Aside from security challenges posed by the militant group’s ban on aid work and the general insecurity in the country, the international response to the famine in Somalia is threatened by riots and looting.

On Friday, Aug. 5, at least seven internally displaced people were killed in a camp in Mogadishu after armed men shot at people queuing to receive food aid. News agencies say it is still unclear whether the armed men were militants or government troops.

“When people started to take the food then the gunfire started and everyone was being shot,” an IDP staying in the camp said, according to The Associated Press.

A spokesperson for WFP has confirmed food aid was stolen from the camp following the attack. Looting is a common challenge for humanitarian agencies responding to large-scale emergencies, such as the crisis in East Africa and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

New pledges, appeals

Meanwhile, donors continue to pledge new and additional money for East Africa, including a long-term aid to help the region recover from the current crisis. The European Union said it will invest €175 million in Somalia, to be used for initiatives to boost governance, food security and education. The money is in addition to the €212 million the EU pledged to Somalia for the period 2008-2013.

The U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund said it has disbursed $38 million for humanitarian work in Somalia for July and August. The money went to WFP, UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. Development Program and the World Health Organization.

New appeals for Horn of Africa were also launched over the weekend: The International Organization for Migration is asking for $26 million while the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal but has yet to indicate its target amount.

Read more news on the East African crisis.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.