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

A man carries food aid delivered by Oxfam and its partner ALDEF in Kenya. Photo by: Anna Ridout / Oxfam / CC BY-NC-ND

United Nations agencies are asking for additional security guarantees from militant groups in drought-hit Somalia before scaling up their aid efforts in the country.

The militant group al-Shabab has lifted its ban on aid workers in southern Somalia, but the U.N. refugee agency said the situation in the region is not yet ideal for humanitarian work. The United Nations on Wednesday declared famine in parts of southern Somalia.

“We do have a very minimal presence, and we have regular visits into the country, but we need significantly better access than we have at the moment to address an emergency of this scale,” The Associated Pressquotes Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for UNHCR.

UNICEF has airlifted some relief supplies to southern Somalia after the ban was lifted, while the World Food Program said it is still assessing the situation there before deciding whether to resume its aid work or not.

>> WFP Mulls Returning to Southern Somalia

Its’ officially a famine - UN

The global body’s decision to declare a state of famine in Lower Shabelle and southern Bakool, two of the worst affected regions in southern Somalia, was announced by Mark Bowden, the U.N. resident coordinator for Somalia.

Bowden also called for additional international support for the African country, warning that the famine could spread to other parts of southern Somalia within two months if the international community fails to “act now.”

The United Nations declares a famine when 30 percent of a country’s or region’s population are severely malnourished and two adults or four children out of every 10,000 are dying of hunger daily, Al Jazeera notes. Before its declaration on Wednesday, the United Nations called the situation in southern Somalia a humanitarian emergency.

Shortly after the United Nations’ declaration, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged an additional $28 million in emergency aid for Somalia and Kenya, where the majority of Somali refugees have fled, CNN says

Australia also pledged 10 million Australian dollars ($10.17 million)  to the World Food Program, which provides emergency food aid to some 6.7 million people in the Horn of Africa. The country said it would also contribute AU$15 million to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and AU$5 million for Australian non-governmental organizations responding to the crisis.

Oxfam International, meanwhile, accused rich governments of “willful neglect” as the international response to the East African crisis suffers an $800 million funding shortfall. International donors and local governments should step up their response to plug this funding gap, Oxfam urged. It also called for sweeping reforms in the international aid system to stop the cycle of crises affecting poor people around the world.

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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.