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Secretary-General calls for world’s assistance to bring stability to Somalia

Secretary-General calls for world’s assistance to bring stability to Somalia

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today voiced his grave concern about the intensified violence in Somalia, and called on the world to step up its assistance to the war-torn East African nation.

The country has been wracked by deadly clashes in recent weeks, and according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 340,000 people – roughly one-third of the city’s population – have fled the violence in the capital Mogadishu since the start of February, while at least 1,000 have sustained injuries.

“The international community should fully cooperate and give some concerted efforts to restore peace and security in that country,” Mr. Ban told reporters in New York.

Since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from the capital and much of the country last December, there has been an upsurge in violence. Clan-based militias have also been involved in the clashes.

“I am also very much troubled by the fact that the Transitional Federal Government is [not] able to sustain the momentum thus created politically,” Mr. Ban noted.

He also urged for plans to convene a National Reconciliation Congress, which have been postponed until next month, to continue. Recognizing that such a Congress will have logistical and financial difficulties, he appealed to the international community for assistance.

“We have seen in the last 10 days or so some of the worst fighting in Mogadishu that the city has seen in the last 15 or 16 years,” John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said at a press briefing in Geneva today.

He stressed that “the rules of international humanitarian law are being flouted by all sides in Mogadishu,” which has witnessed the largest displacement of people in the world this year. He added that civilians have been caught in the crossfire, there is indiscriminate shelling and missiles have been seen hitting hospitals.

Mr. Holmes argued that the dire humanitarian situation is not entirely a question of adequate resources, but rather of access and security. Aid workers endeavouring to assist those in need have been thwarted by the unstable security situation as well as by the TFG.

“Getting aid to [those who have fled Mogadishu] is proving very difficult” due to both the insecurity and the blockage of roads by the military. He also mentioned a distribution by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) “which was halted because the Government said they had not inspected the food themselves, which seems inappropriate in an emergency situation.”

Although the TFG agreed during a meeting with the UN’s Somalia Country Team this week to allow humanitarian workers access to Mogadishu’s airports, he said that OCHA is “waiting to see whether that agreement in principle is translated into practice.”

Another major public health concern is the outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea, which OCHA reports has affected 17,000 people and killed 600 in south-central Somalia, which includes Mogadishu and surrounding areas.

“A particular concern is that the rainy season is approaching, which will obviously exacerbate these health problems very considerably,” Mr. Holmes said.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners on the ground have distributed urgently needed supplies to over 35,000 people who have fled the capital and are currently residing in the small town of Afgooye, 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu.

Despite the influx of aid, the town, sheltering more than 41,000 displaced, is overwhelmed by the constant stream of desperate people who are seeking help and safety.

“People living in Afgooye are scared because the fighting might spread along the road from Mogadishu,” a UNHCR staff member said of the increasingly chaotic situation in the town. “They also fear the increasing theft and burglary and the gangs that roam the town, which used to be safe.”

Many residents have already taken in family members and friends who have escaped the capital, and the town has run out of shelter space. Many families are living under plastic sheeting supplied by UNHCR to protect them from the weather, and prices have surged in local shops due to the increased demand. Local landowners are even charging rent to people seeking sanctuary under their trees.

“People in Afgooye are extremely poor, most of them live on less than a dollar a day, and now they can no longer afford the prices which rise day after day,” the UNHCR staffer said. “Some shopowners and landowners make a lot of money by demanding unaffordable prices.”

Explosions and military activity on the road linking the town to Mogadishu have forced it to close, and the closure of a bridge on the town’s end has blocked trucks carrying UNHCR supplies.

Despite the obstacles, the agency plans to distribute a second round of relief items – including plastic sheeting, mattresses and kitchen utensils, all of which have been airlifted from Dubai – this week for an additional 13,500 people.