Thursday, July 14, 2011

WFP tries to return to Somalia despite threats and fines

Last year, the World Food Programme pulled out of southern Somalia because of violent threats made against its workers by the al Shabaab Islamic rebels. Now with a severe drought hitting the region, el Shabaab is willing to allow the WFP back in. Still, the WFP is unsure of workers safety and there are even claims that el Shabaab will levy a large fee against WFP for coming back in.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Megan Rowling reports on this angle of drought striking the Horn of Africa.

A week ago, insurgent group al Shabaab said it was lifting a ban it had imposed on some humanitarian agencies supplying aid in areas it controls in the Horn of African nation, mainly in the south.

Many Somalis are increasingly struggling to survive the compounding stresses of conflict and worsening drought. Thousands are abandoning their homes and streaming across the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders, seeking refuge in overcrowded camps.

An al Shabaab spokesperson told journalists that all aid agencies, Muslim and non-Muslim – "whose objective is only humanitarian relief" – are now free to help drought-stricken Somalis, once they have contacted its drought committee.

WFP spokesperson Greg Barrow told AlertNet from Rome that the agency has since reached out to the rebel group via the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, but has yet to receive a response.


The United Nations says some 2.85 million people in Somalia need emergency aid, and in the worst-hit areas one in three children is suffering from malnutrition.

But local analysts in Somalia told Reuters al Shabaab had lifted the aid ban in the south to generate money to fund its war effort. It has previously asked aid agencies to pay a hefty registration fee.

The international humanitarian community has welcomed the announcement with caution, saying the safety of aid workers must be assured.

"We are ready to scale up assistance in southern Somalia but need guarantees that humanitarian workers can operate safely and will not be taxed or targeted," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said in a statement on Tuesday.

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