In Somalia, FAO worker’s death spells trouble

A 32-year-old Somali employee of the Food and Agriculture Organization was killed Monday, Aug. 27, by an armed group in southern Somalia. The show of violence does not bode well for humanitarian groups who have returned to the country after their banishment last summer by al-Shabab left millions without famine relief.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva called the attack in Merka “extremely violent and targeted.”

No additional information was released about Yassin Mohamed Hassan’s death. Somali news site Mareeg reported on the same day that Somali and African Union troops pushed “al-Qaida-affiliated groups” out of Merka, leading some to speculate Hassan was caught up in the fighting.

Merka is located 90 kilometers south of Mogadishu, and has been under extremist rule since November 2008, according to the news site.

FAO scaled up its operations in southern Somalia after famine was declared there in July 2011, and now has more than 100 staff members across the country. It is one of just a few agencies operating in some southern areas.

Hassan was part of an FAO project overseeing irrigation infrastructure rehabilitation in the area. FAO has been giving out seeds, irrigation technology and water pumps, but fighting has made it hard for supplies to be delivered in time to be helpful, Al Jazeera reports.

Al-Shabab prevented food aid from reaching areas under its control during last summer’s drought in the Horn of Africa, and the militant network expelled 16 aid organizations and several U.N. agencies, including the World Food Program. The group demanded last year that destitute farmers “depend on God” instead of accepting food aid from “infidels” at foreign relief agencies, according to Voice of America.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was one of the last organizations allowed to distribute aid at the time, but it too was forced by al-Shabab to close its operations in January 2012.

Al-Shabab was reportedly pushed out of Mogadishu in August 2011, and since then almost 63,000 — internally displaced people, mostly — have returned to the city, according to the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks. Aid groups returned as well, but swathes of the south are still under militant control.

The withdrawal did not prevent targeted violence, either. Assassinations and bomb blasts continue in Mogadishu. Twenty humanitarian workers have been killed in Somalia since August 2011, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At least 27 major attacks directed at aid workers occurred between 2009 and 2010, making Somalia one of the most dangerous countries to be a humanitarian worker.

More than 1.6 million Somalis are currently receiving food assistance, and even more require clean water. If fighting escalates in southern Somalia, humanitarian gains could be reversed and access for international aid groups might again be limited.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a former Devex global development reporter based in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.

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