The United Nations refugee agency today said it will airlift 240 tons of aid from Saudi Arabia to Somalia during the Eid al-Fitr holiday to ensure that those facing the severe food crisis in the Horn of Africa country have enough to eat during the special occasion, which marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
The aid is in the form of special Eid packages, including of ready-to-eat meals, orange juice, sweets and biscuits, Adrian Edwards, the spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva. The assistance will be distributed to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and among the urban poor in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and the Lower Shabelle region.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is on a three-day visit to the Horn of Africa to show solidarity drought-affected Somalis during Eid al-Fitr.
Speaking today in Dollow, a town on Somalia’s border with Ethiopia, Mr. Guterres said that UNHCR was assisting about 850,000 Somali refugees in neighbouring countries. “We should not aim at emptying Somalia, but rather at making every effort to provide aid inside [the country].”
The visit marks the start of a major effort by UNHCR and its partners to step up the delivery of humanitarian aid inside Somalia, where large numbers of people are in need of assistance. UNHCR has previously had only intermittent access to several areas inside due to insecurity.
Many of the displaced Somalis who spoke with Mr. Guterres had harrowing tales of loss and starvation during their flight across harsh desert terrain.
The High Commissioner said it would be better for the international community to deliver aid to those in need rather than have large numbers of people risk their lives in search of food, water, shelter and other essential services.
“Somalis should have the right to choose to stay in their own country,” said Mr. Guterres, urging all parties to cease violence, respect humanitarian law and to allow unfettered access to those people in need.
Mr. Edwards said that the influx of Somalis into Ethiopia and Kenya had slowed, but refugee camps in the two countries continue to face challenges.
In Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado area, the Kobe camp has seen a slight decrease in the overall mortality rate – from 5.7 deaths per 10,000 people a day last week to 4.9 per 10,000 this week – but deaths among children under the age of five have been on the rise. The mortality rate in that age group has gone up from 12.9 per 10,000 per day last week to 15.3 per 10,000 this week.
Measles remains the main cause of death in Kobe camp, accounting for 68 per cent of the fatalities. Other causes of death are severe malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Although health services and nutritional feeding programmes are available, some parents are failing to take their children for continuing treatment, Mr. Edwards pointed out, a factor that has necessitated the decentralization of services. In addition to the community outreach programme, a mobile health clinic run by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will this week start work in Kobe camp to encourage refugees to use the medical facilities available.
In the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya, some 30,000 recent arrivals have so far been moved from areas outside the Ifo Extension and Kambioos camps. “We continue to pitch new rows of tents, and focus on the immediate provision of basic hygiene services, namely by installing water systems and digging latrine pits,” said Mr. Edwards.
In a related development, UNHCR said it had received a $62 million donation from the IKEA Foundation to fund the emergency relief intervention in the Dadaab complex. The donation, to will be disbursed over a three-year period, is the largest ever received by the agency from a private donor, Mr. Edwards said.