As Somalia approaches the anniversary of two war-torn decades without a functioning national government, the United Nations today called on the international community to step up its aid to build on humanitarian gains eked out amidst the country’s struggles.
Despite the years of conflict with clans and Islamist fundamentalist militias, many development indicators have improved since 1991, when the government of Muhammad Siad Barre was overthrown, as the UN and local partners have increased support for the provision of essential social services to vulnerable communities.
“Progress is possible even in these difficult circumstances,” the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden said. “Across the country, increasing numbers of children are enrolling in schools, health clinics are opening, and the economy led by the agricultural, banking and telecom sectors is growing rapidly.
“While indicators of Somali welfare remain low, they have shown a marked improvement since 1991 despite continuing conflict. Life expectancy has grown, access to health facilities has almost doubled, infant mortality has dropped and extreme poverty has plummeted.”
UN-backed immunization campaigns have kept Somalia polio-free since 2007 and the incidence of malaria has been reduced by 57 per cent between 2005 and 2009. In the last three years, the UN, along with local partners, has also scaled-up nutrition services by over 300 per cent for the treatment of acute malnutrition among the most affected infants.
But despite significant signs of progress, the humanitarian official noted, much more needs to be done.
“The Somali people need our support more than ever,” Mr. Bowden said. “The international community must step up its support to the people of Somalia if we are to protect the gains we have made and prevent many more people from slipping into crisis.”
Large swathes of Somalia remain in the grip of conflict resulting in a dire humanitarian situation for over two million people. Last month, the UN warned that a predicted drought is likely to push many more people into crisis.
Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), supported by a UN-backed African Union peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, is based in Mogadishu, the capital, while the Islamist militant Islamist group Al Shabaab and other such groups control much of the country, especially in the south.
Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to provide urgent military and other support to the TFG to stop “foreign fighters and other spoilers” turning the region into the next stronghold of international terrorism. In December, the Security Council approved a 50 per cent increase in AMISOM to 12,000 troops.
“Somalia is one of the world’s most intractable crises,” Mr. Bowden said. “As we reflect on the tragic consequences of two decades of conflict, let us reaffirm our commitment to building a lasting peace which matches the resilience of millions of Somali people who continue to work towards a better future.”
This week, the UN will launch a five year development plan for the country called the UN Assistance Strategy for Somalia, which will set out the humanitarian, recovery and development objectives to increase availability of essential social services, provide livelihood opportunities and build government institutions capable of providing security and justice for all.