Somalia: UN food aid agency suspends air delivery as fighting intensifies
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended much of its delivery of aid by air in Somalia due to increased fighting, including its first airdrops in eight years, and withdrawn its last international staff from a country where it has been struggling to feed up to half a million people hit by floods.
The intensified conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) is also disrupting the dispatch of WFP food by road within Somalia, delaying distribution, and the agency today urged all parties to allow humanitarian workers and aid to move freely and safely to help the most vulnerable.
“WFP hopes to resume all its air operations using airdrops and helicopters and its humanitarian passenger and cargo services in Somalia as soon as possible and is in contact with authorities on the ground in an attempt to achieve this,” it added.
The airdrops on Sunday and Monday by an Antonov-12, flying out of Mombasa in neighbouring Kenya, were the first by WFP in Somalia since 1998 when floods submerged much of the region, and had delivered 28 metric tons before the agency suspended them yesterday due to a TFG ban on using Somali air space.
It also temporarily relocated two MI-8 helicopters and 25 humanitarian workers, including its last eight international staffers, from the Somalia port of Kismayo to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, at the request of Kismayo authorities because of expected unrest.
There are still more than 100 national staff operating from 15 offices across the country, working to distribute food. “The quantity of food affected by the suspension of airdrops and helicopter operations is small in tonnage terms in comparison to the total amount of food delivered in Somalia by WFP, but it is very significant for those people we are trying to reach because they were cut off from access by land,” the agency said.
WFP also suspended its passenger and cargo flights from Kenya into Somalia but hopes to resume them from Nairobi to northern Somalia and within northern Somalia tomorrow.
Since the beginning of November 8,000 tons of WFP food, transported by water, land and air have been distributed to 383,000 people in flood-affected areas of south and central Somalia, which earlier this year was hit by the worst drought in 10 years.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday telephoned Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi, whose forces are helping the TFG, to try and halt the violence. Mr. Annan’s Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonsény Fall urged the Security Council to call on all sides to immediately stop fighting, warning of possible regional consequences if the conflict escalates. The Council has scheduled consultations on the matter today.
Today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed deep concern for civilian victims. In response to reports of aerial bombardments by Ethiopian forces, she insisted that the laws of war must be respected at all times, granting safe passage to civilians fleeing the conflict and access for humanitarian organizations.
“It is unacceptable that the people of Somalia are again facing an upsurge in violence, displacement and human rights violations,” she said.