Aid Groups Renew Calls for Safe Access to Drought-hit Southern Somalia

A warehouse-full of food aid for East Africa. Photo by: Amy Christian / Oxfam / CC BY-NC-ND

Humanitarian groups have stepped up calls for safe and unrestricted access to parts of southern Somalia that are badly-hit by drought, asking for more security guarantees and encouraging donors to relax some restrictions on aid delivery in the region.

International non-governmental organizations working on the ground in Somalia, including Medecins Sans Frontieres and CARE, have called for unconditional and uninhibited access to the worst-hit areas of the country, which they said is necessary before they can expand their operations.

“Normal coping mechanisms are exhausted and many people have reached their limits. MSF is prepared to do more but to do so we need certain restrictions to be lifted,” MSF said in a July 21 statement. “If MSF is allowed to send in international technical experts to work alongside our more than 1,000 Somali staff and we are permitted to send in supply flights with therapeutic feeding and other medicines, then we can scale up further.”

CARE asked donors to “ease the current legal restrictions on the delivery of aid in Somalia on humanitarian grounds to enable more aid to reach those who need it.”

Most donors said they are prepared to support the expansion of humanitarian efforts in Somalia but are wary of the potential security challenges, despite a recent decision of militant groups there to ease their ban on aid work.

“Al Shabaab has made a pledge that it will allow unfettered humanitarian access to the World Food Program, the UN agencies, and humanitarian actors. We are determined to test that pledge. We would like to see that access expand dramatically and rapidly,” U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah said Wednesday while visiting Kenya.

The U.S. government is consulting with humanitarian groups that have worked in the region to see if there are any real changes in al-Shabab’s policies, said Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, according to CNN.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program said it will begin airlifting relief supplies to some parts of southern Somalia over the next few days. The agency also plans to open new land and air routes in Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool, where the United Nations has declared a famine.

“We are absolutely prepared to go into southern Somalia and are awaiting guarantees on security … ground rules that would allow us to access, deliver and monitor the huge amounts of food that are needed,” David Orr, a WFP spokesman, said in Kenya, according to CNN.

Another WFP spokesperson, Greg Barrow, said the agency is looking at possible partners to deliver food aid on the ground. Barrow added that WFP wants to make sure aid it delivers in southern Somalia is not diverted to militant groups there.

“We have to work through partners in a situation where we understand there will be rigorous monitoring to ensure the assistance reaches those who need it,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

New pledges

Amid these discussions on access to southern Somalia, some donors have pledged more money for the international response covering the entire Horn of Africa region.

The Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $14.6 million for the work of U.N. agencies in Ethiopia and $8.4 million to support programs for Somali refugees in Kenya.

Norway, meanwhile, announced a new pledge of 30 million Norwegian kroner ($5.56 million), bringing its total contributions to the international East African drought response to 263 million Norwegian kroner.

>> Key Challenges in East African Crisis Response: Security, Overcrowded Refugee Camps

>> UN Seeks More Aid Worker Security Assurances in Famine-Hit Somalia

>> Donors Pledge More Aid for East African Crisis Response

Update: News agencies report that Somali militant group al-Shabab affirms the ban on aid work in areas it controls remains in place.

“Those earlier banned groups are not welcome to serve in our area of control,” al-Shabab spokesperson Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said Friday, as quoted by Al Jazeera.

WFP is among the groups banned by the Somali militants.  

Rage said al-Shabab also rejected the United Nations’ declaration of a famine in some parts of southern Somalia.

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    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.