In Somalia, US Plans Relaxing Aid Delivery Restrictions to Reach More Drought Victims

Somalis wait for food distribution at the Badbado camp. Photo by: Stuart Price / UN

The Obama administration is planning to ease its restrictions on the delivery of U.S.-funded aid in Somalia, particularly in areas controlled by the al-Shabab militant group, amid calls from aid agencies for unimpeded and unconditional access within the drought-hit country.

The U.S. Department of State classifies al-Shabab as a foreign terrorist organization, and bans aid agencies that receive U.S. financial assistance from paying taxes and other fees to al-Shabab to avoid the diversion of aid to the militant group.

Aid agencies have called on all parties in Somalia, including donors such as the United States, to grant them unimpeded access to drought and famine victims in the country.

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

In a background briefing held Aug. 2 at the State Department, senior administration officials said there was a move within the Obama administration to issue “new guidance to allow more flexibility and to provide a wider range of age – of aid to a larger number of areas in need.” The officials did not elaborate on the details of guidance but stressed that the Obama administration wants to reassure “humanitarian assistance organizations and workers that good-faith efforts to deliver food to people in need will not risk prosecution.”

The officials also clarified that it was never the U.S.’s policy to prohibit the delivery of humanitarian aid within Somalia but that the country’s main concern is to make sure al-Shabab does not profit from the crisis.

Mark Toner, spokesperson of the State Department, provided more details on the new guidance during the department’s daily briefing, also held Aug. 2.

“Without getting into too great a detail, my understanding is that we’re talking about easing some of the restrictions in these licensing procedures that would, again, as I said, allow [aid agencies] to access these areas where al-Shabaab controls,” Toner said.

Toner said the administration is still ironing out specifics of the new guidance. He also stressed that the United States is not easing any of its sanctions on al-Shabab.

The United States is the top donor to the East African crisis, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

More on the East African crisis:

>> Drought-hit Somalia Receives Aid from African Neighbors

>> World Bank Focus in Horn of Africa: Mid-to-Long-Term Projects Only

>> Somali NGOs to International Donors: We Can Deliver Drought Aid

>> Stuck in Customs: Aid to East African Drought Victims

>> Aid Reaches Famine-Hit Region in 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.