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

Men, women and children wait outside a medical clinic set up by the United Nations Mission in Somalia for people affected by the severe drought in East Africa. Photo by: Stuart Price / UN

Security remains a key concern of donors and aid agencies engaged in the international response to the East African crisis, particularly in southern Somalia, where the United Nations has classified the situation in some areas as famine.

The al-Shabab militant group, which controls large portions of southern Somalia, has lifted its ban on aid work and humanitarian workers in the region. But the World Food Program and the United States, echoing a concern of the U.N. refugee agency, said they want more assurances of safe access before they send humanitarian teams there.

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

“They say they’ve lifted the restrictions, after two years of starving their own people. We’ll see if those restrictions are in fact, as a practical matter, lifted on the ground,” Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, said July 20 in New York. “Neither the United States nor others in the international community are prepared to pay bribes or taxes to al-Shabaab, while it starves its own people.”

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran aired a similar concern, adding that her agency will “aggressively pursue efforts to mitigate against risk, through robust assessments and monitoring.” She said WFP is exploring different ways to send aid to Somalia, including airlifting food aid to parts of southern Somalia to be distributed by non-governmental organizations already working on the ground.

WFP is also prepared to “to negotiate with the drought committees to ensure the proper safety conditions for our staff so that food and supplementary nutrition will reach the most vulnerable – especially children,” Sheeran added.

WFP halted its programs in some parts of southern Somalia in 2010 due to threats to the lives of its workers there. Sheeran said the agency has lost 14 relief workers in the region since 2008.

Crowded camps

Outside Somalia, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it is struggling to keep up with the influx of Somali refugees to camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Most of these camps are already stretched beyond their maximum capacities.

A UNHCR official said a new camp is being prepared to accommodate up to 35,000 refugees, Deutsche Presse-Agentur says.

Meanwhile, the Irish government has pledged €5.6 million ($7.9 million) for East African drought victims, especially those in Somalia. The money will support food aid programs of WFP and help UNCHR provide water, sanitation, shelter and health care in the refugee camps it manages.

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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.