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Intensified fighting in Somali capital impedes access to those in need – UN

Intensified fighting in Somali capital impedes access to those in need – UN

United Nations agencies today said their efforts to deliver aid are being thwarted by the deteriorating security situation in Somalia, where hundreds of thousands of people affected by violence in and around the capital city of Mogadishu face a dire humanitarian situation.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that access to areas around Mogadishu and key airstrips in southern and central Somalia is essential to deliver much-needed supplies such as food and water to avert a crisis.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 213,000 people have fled fighting in the capital in recent months, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that hospitals are overflowing with casualties and health clinics are facing a rising number of cases of acute water diarrhoea.

“We have heard the appeal of Somali civil society to the humanitarian community for more help and we continue to respond, as far as we are able, with supplies and technical support,” said Christian Balslev-Olesen, Somalia Representative for UNICEF.

“But our access is limited,” he added. “And so we reiterate our call to all parties involved in the conflict to do everything within their power to allow us to reach those who need our assistance the most.”

In December, 2006, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu and much of the rest of the country.

OCHA reported that new bureaucratic rules imposed by the TFG as well as lack of access to stocks in Mogadishu are impeding aid delivery.

“UNICEF warehouses in the capital containing relief supplies cannot be reached due to conflict in the area and the use of Mogadishu airport to bring in further supplies carries its own security risks,” Mr. Balslev-Olesen said.

The UN refugee agency today said that it is rushing aid to thousands who have fled Mogadishu amid the recent outbreak of fighting.

UNHCR began distributing supplies yesterday to 40,000 displaced people who have fled Mogadishu since February and are currently residing in the small town of Afgooye, 30 kilometres west of the capital, the agency’s spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

There was also an explosion yesterday on the main road linking Afgooye – which shelters one fifth of the 213,000 Somalis who are believed to have fled the capital – and Mogadishu, isolating the small town.

“There are concerns that with this vital road now cut off, aid agencies will have an even harder time trying to bring supplies from warehouses in Mogadishu for distribution to thousands of displaced people in Afgooye and surrounding areas,” Mr. Redmond said.

On its first day of distribution in Afgooye, UNHCR and its Somali non-governmental organization (NGO) partners reached 1,500 families or roughly 9,000 people, all of whom were living outdoors, either under trees or out in the open. By this morning, many had erected makeshift shelters with the plastic sheeting they received yesterday.

The agency hopes to reach an additional 500 families or 3,000 people living outdoors.

The coming rainy season makes providing shelter for families currently living under trees – who are exposed to the scorching sun, heavy rains and chilly nights – all the more critical. UNHCR is also delivering sleeping mats and mosquito nets to the displaced.

This weekend, distribution will continue from stocks that have been flown in from emergency stockpiles in Dubai, including blankets, more plastic sheeting, jerry cans and kitchen sets for almost 20,000 people.

“UNHCR plans to airlift more relief supplies from Dubai next week, and to distribute them in Afgooye,” Mr. Redmond said, adding that these additional supplies will cover 15,000 people.

On Wednesday, UNHCR sent two truckloads of much-needed relief and medical supplies for Dobley, a small town on the 18 kilometres from Somalia’s border with Kenya. The town is struggling to cope with the recent arrival of 4,000 displaced people as well as with an outbreak of diarrhoea which has killed six children.

By yesterday afternoon, supplies had been distributed at an isolation camp the community had set up on the town’s outskirts to curb the spread of the disease, and NGOs report that 50 people have been hospitalized in the makeshift hospital.

“Because of security concerns, the UN is unable to work in these parts of Somalia and is providing assistance through Somali NGOs,” Mr. Redmond noted.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other NGOs have delivered over 40,000 metric tones of food to the displaced, among other vulnerable people, since the beginning of the year, and aims to distribute an additional 13,500 tonnes in the next three months.

To meet the needs of Somalis, UN agencies and its partners have appealed for $262 million. So far, 34 per cent of that has been contributed with donors giving $88 million.

Meanwhile, in a new report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that Somalia must seize the opportunity to consolidate peace after 16 years of instability.

“While the challenges are considerable, there are political, humanitarian and regional security imperatives that can assist the Somali people in recovering from years of statelessness and to avoid a slide back into chaos and more violence,” Mr. Ban says in the report.

Although it is imperative that fighting cease immediately, a military solution to the current violence raging in Mogadishu would be “counterproductive” since it would foster resentment among various clans and communities while impeding the reconciliation process that is currently underway, the report notes.

Mr. Ban urges the international community to provide political, technical and financial support to the nascent national reconciliation congress, which could potentially “play an important role in the broader process of addressing the past and building the future.”

He says the UN must cooperate closely with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organization that has been involved in efforts to stabilize Somalia, along with the African Union (AU) and the League of Arab States.

The report also suggests that the Security Council approve of planning for a potential peacekeeping operation for the war-ravaged country, examining the funds necessary and seeking firm pledges from countries to send troops and police.

Mr. Ban underscores that the primary responsibility for securing a lasting peace lies with Somalis who must overcome their differences and allow for an all-inclusive peace process. To this end, he says that recovery and reconstruction efforts are key to fostering reconciliation and rebuilding to make a significant impact on the lives of the people.

He appeals to donors to support emergency relief operations, and stresses the importance of maintaining a safe space in which humanitarian workers can provide the necessary assistance.

Mr. Ban cites the “massive and systemic” human rights violations which have occurred in the east African country which have been reported by several independent UN experts since 1991, and encourages their recommendations to be folded into national efforts in this area.