UN official urges greater support to address ‘chronic catastrophe’ in Somalia

10 December 2010

Somalia remains in a state of “chronic catastrophe” with two million people in need of humanitarian assistance, high levels of internal displacement and indications that a creeping drought could push more people into hunger, the senior United Nations relief official for the country said today.

“Somalia has been in crisis for some 20 years and the impact of the long-term crisis which is again now being threatened by acute drought conditions is of great concern to the international community and the United Nations in particular,” Mark Bowden, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, told reporters at UN Headquarters.

He said conditions in camps accommodating the country’s 1.46 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are unacceptable, with people in those settlements having little access to sanitation and health facilities, despite great efforts by humanitarian agencies to improve the situation.

“There is still a very considerable need for the international community to fully meet the needs of the IDPs in Somalia,” Mr. Bowden said.

He said the La Niña weather pattern forecast for next year is likely to lead to drought conditions and worsen the humanitarian situation for Somalia’s agro-pastoralist communities who lost most of their assets during the past five seasons of drought, and who were beginning to recover due to a better harvest earlier this year. Drought conditions could be followed by floods from heavy rainfall, a common phenomenon in Somalia, he added.

Despite the difficult conditions that humanitarian agencies face due to conflict in Somalia, Mr. Bowden noted that there is still considerable access for aid groups across the country as whole, and in most areas where people are in need.

“The difficulties that we do face are in terms of getting food assistance to all the population in Somalia,” he said. “The issue of food availability I think is something that will be a major concern. We are trying to address that by putting greater emphasis on meeting health, water and sanitation needs to better protect the nutritional status of children,” he said.

Earlier this year, one of the insurgent groups fighting against Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government prevented the UN World Food Programme (WFP) from distributing food in some areas, accusing the agency of undermining local farmers by giving imported food for free.

UN agencies and their partners have appealed for $530 million to fund humanitarian operations for Somalia next year.

“We can deliver despite the challenges if we are supported,” said Kiki Gbeho, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia.

Mr. Bowden said that the presence of international relief agencies is increasing in the self-declared “Republic of Somaliland” in the northwest, and in the self-declared autonomous region known as Puntland, which remain relatively calm compared to volatile southern Somalia.

The Horn of Africa country has been without a fully functioning central government and has been wracked by factional warfare since the toppling of the government in 1991.

 

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