Growing insecurity in Somali capital hampering aid access, UN warns

21 July 2009
A group of displaced Somalis at a food distribution centre

Aid workers are finding it increasingly difficult to gain access and provide assistance to residents of the Somali capital because of the worsening conflict there, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

This week’s scheduled distribution of 4,000 aid kits in Mogadishu and surrounding areas had to be postponed because of security concerns, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva.

The looting by militants of UN facilities in Baidoa and Wajid yesterday has meant assistance efforts in those areas have also ground to a halt.

“We again appeal to the warring parties in Somalia to respect basic international humanitarian and human rights principles and to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population as well as for the humanitarian workers trying to help the victims,” Mr. Redmond said.

The UN’s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, warned yesterday that aid workers in Somalia – and many other countries – are coming under increasingly violent attack.

Today Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement through his spokesperson condemning the looting.

“Such acts target the whole gamut of UN peace and humanitarian operations in Somalia,” the statement noted. “The UN is providing life-saving support to people in need throughout Somalia, and will continue to do all it can to help the country emerge from decades of violence.”

An estimated 223,000 residents have now left Mogadishu since early May, when the Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam militant groups launched attacks against Government forces in the capital. In the past fortnight alone, about 20,000 people have fled their homes.

The newly displaced join another 400,000 Somalis packed into the Afgooye corridor, a congested strip of land that runs southwest from Mogadishu and is packed with makeshift shelters.

Mr. Redmond said non-governmental organizations (NGOs) trying to operate in the Afgooye area say they are overstretched and unable to cope with the latest influx.

“There is a lack of adequate shelter, sanitation facilities and clean drinking water. The situation has grown worse following recent torrential rains. The lack of sufficient latrines poses a major health risk.”

The widespread insecurity means aid workers are struggling to deliver humanitarian assistance from the port of Mogadishu to the Afgooye corridor.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that it is especially concerned about deadly outbreaks of acute watery diarrhoea, which is on the rise again around Mogadishu after two years of decline.

WHO is working with its NGO partners to provide cholera kits, oral rehydration sachets, aqua tabs and chlorine, and transport communication sets in a bid to contain the outbreaks of diarrhoea and cholera.

Two of Mogadishu’s four functioning hospitals are admitting only war-wounded patients and trauma patients for emergency surgery, which is adding to the burden for other facilities.

In the Bakool region, which is home to at least 300,000 people, several health facilities – including a hospital in the town of Xudur – have had to be closed because of insecurity and hostility towards aid workers.

A spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the agency was committed to helping Somalis and was continuing its operations, despite yesterday’s attack by looters.


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