Security Remains Main Concern in East African Crisis Response

A woman with her child rushes past soldiers of the Transitional Federal Government to a feeding center. Photo by: Stuart Price / UN

Aid groups responding to the East African crisis are unable to reach some 2.2 million people in parts of southern Somalia under the control of the militant group al-Shahab, which recently maintained that its ban on some humanitarian agencies from entering areas it controls remains in place.

An al-Shabab spokesperson said the militant group is “not guaranteeing safety for any agency that was previously banned from working in areas under our control.”

“Our message was mistranslated; the agencies we are calling to help the people are those who are in our areas now, but those banned previously – including [the World Food Program] and [UNICEF]– are not [welcome],” al-Shabab spokesperson Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage added, as quoted by the Independent.

The militant group, which controls parts of southern Somalia, including some of the hardest-hit areas in the country, previously announced that it was welcoming aid work in these areas for the first time since imposing a ban on food aid in 2010. WFP, the United States and others, however, said they wanted to make sure the ban was lifted on all aid agencies before sending aid and staff into the region.

Some 2.2 million people living in these al-Shabab-controlled areas are in need of food aid, according to WFP, which said it was considering food drops from planes into these areas.

“It is the most dangerous environment we are working in in the world. But people are dying. It’s not about politics, it’s about saving lives now,” Reuters quotes WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, who was speaking from northeastern Kenya.

Aside from restrictions imposed by rebels, aid workers also face the threats of land mines in areas where al-Shabab militants clashed with Ethiopian and Kenyan forces earlier in 2011, according to Regis Chapman, head of WFP’s operations in Somalia.

In light of these security challenges, an Irish aid agency has urged the United Nations to launch a security operation in southern Somalia similar to the one the global body implemented in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

“The U.N. should intervene directly to allow aid to be delivered. Or is it the international community’s intention to succumb to this terrorist group’s threat, irrespective of the horrific implications for four million people?” said John O’Shea, chief executive of GOA, according to Irish Weather Online, “The U.N. has to find a way to have aid delivered to the Somali people.”

Medecins Sans Frontieres, meanwhile, is asking all parties in Somalia, its neighboring countries and the international community to “remove all hurdles that currently prevent the expansion of independent aid inside Somalia.”

“Fighting in Somalia, restrictions on supply flights and international support staff, as well as administrative hurdles, have all contributed to the current hardship faced by the Somali population today,” Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president, said in a July 22 statement. “It is essential that both restrictions and obstacles to humanitarian aid be removed as the situation continues to worsen.”

MSF is among the aid groups that al-Shabab reportedly welcomes in areas it controls, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which on Saturday (July 23), distributed food aid for 24,000 people in Gedo, a province bordering Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool where the United Nations has declared a famine.

New aid appeals and calls for accelerated response to the crisis were also launched over the weekend.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched July 23 an appeal for 14.7 million Swiss francs ($18.09 million) to fund its work with drought victims in Kenya.

In a joint opinion piece in the The independent published July 24, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called on other donors to follow their countries’ “quick and decisive” action in response to the East African crisis. The two officials also urged for longer-term development efforts to make the region more resilient to similar crises.

“The challenge before us is stark,” Mitchell and Rudd wrote. “The international community has the opportunity to save countless lives. But to do so our response needs to be rapid, flexible and mindful of past mistakes. We need to act now to avert an avoidable catastrophe.”

More aid pledges

Germany said it is considering sending additional aid for drought victims in East Africa, while other donor countries and organizations announced new pledges:

  • 50 million Canadian dollars ($52.51 milllion) from the Canadian International Development Agency, which includes CA$25 million for WFP and CA$25 million for other U.N. agencies and aid groups responding to the crisis. CIDA will also match donations received from July 6 to Sept. 16 by Canadian non-governmental organizations engaged in the East African response.

  • 20 million Australian dollars ($21.65 million) announced by Rudd, to be channeled through WFP. This brings Australia’s total crisis response to AU$80 million.

  • $51.3 million from the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund for Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya as well as in support of refugees affected by the crisis.

  • €1.5 million ($2.15 million) from Luxembourg, to be donated to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and ICRC.

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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.