The top United Nations relief official for Somalia today welcomed an announcement by Al-Shabaab insurgents that they would lift their ban on international aid, but asked for guarantees against workers being targeted or taxed.
“I welcome the suspension of restrictions on aid agencies and I am happy to cooperate with anybody who can help to alleviate the current crisis and save hundreds of Somali lives,” Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said in a news release.
“We stand ready to scale up assistance in southern Somalia but need guarantees that humanitarian workers can operate safely in the area and will not be targeted or agencies taxed,” he said.
The Al-Shabaab militant group, which has been battling the forces of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), announced on Wednesday that it was lifting its two-year-old ban.
Millions of Somalis, particularly in the south, are facing acute levels of hunger and need, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“The suspension of some humanitarian activities in southern areas has affected millions of people in southern Somalia for the last two years,” OCHA said. “Now, the situation has become unbearable because of the drought and a catastrophic rise in food prices meaning that many families can no longer afford a daily meal.”
At least one in three Somali children is malnourished in parts of the south and it is feared that localized starvation exists in certain southern areas currently inaccessible to humanitarians, OCHA said.
The number of malnourished children in Somalia has increased from 376,000 to 476,000 in the first half of 2011 and is expected to increase further in the coming months. Southern areas under Al-Shabaab control are hosting almost 80 per cent of the malnourished children.
“The current situation in southern Somalia is the worst it has been in the last decade and if humanitarian interventions do not occur immediately, thousands of people will die,” OCHA said.
The number of people facing crisis and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance increased in the first half of 2011 by almost 850,000 to some 2.85 million people or one third of the population. OCHA said this rapid deterioration is due to severe drought, drastically increasing food prices and continuing conflict. The failure of the rains this year resulted in very low food production.
As a result, the price of cereals increased by 270 per cent in parts of southern Somalia compared to a year ago. The annual increase in the cost of the overall food basket increased by 50 per cent in the southern region, putting the minimal adequate food intake out of the reach of hundreds of already needy Somali families.
“As a result, many more families will face migration and other hardships which will only add to their already desperate and critical situation,” OCHA said.
Somalia has had no fully functioning national government and has been wracked by factional warfare since the collapse in 1991 of the administration led by the late Muhammad Siad Barre.