Recent political and military improvements in war-torn Somalia offer an “extraordinary moment” of opportunity for progress and great challenges, including from warlords and terrorists, the top United Nations envoy in the country said today, urging the world community to provide more financial and logistical support.
“Now is the time for the international community to demonstrate its commitment and step forward and support the process robustly and immediately on all fronts,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Augustine Mahiga told the Security Council by video link, voicing pleasure at being able to address it “at this historical juncture” from Mogadishu, the capital, for the first time. “The Somali people simply cannot wait any longer.”
He cited the “breathtaking speed” of last week’s withdrawal of Al-Shabaab Islamic insurgents from 95 per cent of Mogadishu under pressure from the 6,200-strong UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and July’s ratification by the transitional parliament of an accord reducing its controversial three-year extension of its mandate that was scheduled to end this month to just one year.
He called for greater funding and logistical assistance, including aviation and mine disposal equipment, for AMISOM, which the African Union has proposed increasing to 20,000-strong, to ensure Transitional Federal Government (TFG) control of Mogadishu and expand it to the south to the borders of Kenya and Ethiopia and to the town of Kismayo, areas still controlled by Al-Shabaab and other militant groups.
“The TFG and AMISOM both have limited resources to exploit the opportunity presented by the withdrawal of Al-Shabaab,” Mr. Mahiga said of a country that has been riven by fighting for the past 20 years, in which it has not had a functioning central government. “The security situation remains precarious and the insurgents are likely to resort to terrorist attacks and guerrilla tactics targeting the TFG and AMISOM forces and unfortunately, even IDPs and other civilians.”
At a later video news conference from Mogadishu, AMISOM Force Commander Major General Nathan Mugisha said 12,000 to 15,000 troops were probably needed to secure Mogadishu efficiently. “But we don’t have them, we don’t have enough armoured cars, we don’t have other capacities like air capacity and maritime capacity,” he said. “We are appealing to the international community to look into this so that we efficiently control Mogadishu.”
Somalia and its neighbours are now confronting a massive humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees driven from their homes by the fighting and one of the worst droughts and famines in recent memory.
Without immediate action by the TFG to put in place basic administrative structures in areas under its control, “a real danger exists that the warlords and their militia groups will move forward to fill the vacuum created by Al-Shabaab’s departure,” Mr. Mahiga warned, calling on the international community to speed up the reinforcement of the Somali police force.
The UN had originally estimated that it would take a year to stabilize Mogadishu and in light of the rapidness of recent developments it is now actively planning to expand its presence beyond the ‘light footprint’ it had envisaged.
“It is thus mission-critical that we secure the logistical support, including a fast-tracked construction of permanent facilities to pave the way for the deployment of additional staff,” Mr. Mahiga said, stressing the “vital immediate requirement” of an additional guard force under AMISOM to protect and facilitate UN movement in Mogadishu.
He said significant gaps still remained in the UN’s support package for AMISOM, underscoring the need for “adequate, predictable and sustainable” funding. “I appeal to the Council to consider expanding the support package for AMISDOM to cover some of the critical categories of self-sustainment and to look at the issue of funding of contingent-owned equipment,” he added.
Turning to the humanitarian crisis, Mr. Mahiga stressed that 3.7 million people, nearly half the Somali population, were now directly at risk of famine and that tens of thousands had already perished, with 13 children out of every 10,000 under the age of five dying every day from malnutrition and famine-related diseases.
Of the $1 billion the UN sought in its Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) at the beginning of the year, less than 50 per cent has so far been received.
Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Catherine Bragg told the Council the crisis had not yet crested since further deterioration is considered likely given the very high levels of both severe acute malnutrition and under-five mortality together with an expected continued increase in cereal prices, and a below-average rainy season harvest.
“Every day counts. We believe that tens of thousands have already died. Hundreds of thousands face imminent starvation and death,” she warned, calling for a scaling up of resources. “We can act to prevent further loss of life and ensure the survival of those who are on the brink of death.
“A massive multi-sectoral response to save lives in the immediate term and to rebuild livelihoods in the medium short term is critical. We will continue to appeal to donors to provide resources needed to respond to the crisis. We expect assistance needs to continue for the rest of this year, if not longer.