Somalia faces dire crossroads as insecurity and drought combine

Published on 18 July 2008

Attacks on aid workers on the ground and threats to ships delivering food aid to Somalia are jeopardising the lives of millions who now need urgent food assistance, WFP said.

WFP said that attacks on aid workers on the ground and threats to ships delivering food aid to Somalia are jeopardising the lives of millions who now need urgent food assistance.

If sufficient food and other humanitarian assistance cannot be scaled up in the coming months, parts of the country could well be in the grips of disaster similar to the 1992-1993 famine

Peter Goossens, WFP Country Director for Somalia

“Somalia is at a dire crossroads,” said Peter Goossens, WFP’s Country Director for Somalia at a news conference today in London. “If sufficient food and other humanitarian assistance cannot be scaled up in the coming months, parts of the country could well be in the grips of disaster similar to the 1992-1993 famine, when hundreds of thousands of people perished.”

Insecurity, drought, a succession of poor or failed harvests, are deepening the suffering of millions of people in the country, and pushing hundreds of thousands more into destitution. The situation is exacerbated by the weakness of the Somali shilling against the dollar, coupled with rising food and fuel prices.

WFP appeal for naval escorts

Goossens warned that deteriorating security was hindering land and sea deliveries of food. WFP has appealed to foreign governments to provide naval escorts to protect WFP food ships against piracy.

Goossens said naval escorts from France, Denmark and the Netherlands proved invaluable over the last eight months, protecting WFP ships against piracy and armed robbery. WFP has received no commitments for further escorts beyond June.

Ninety percent of the food WFP gives to Somalia’s hungry arrives by sea.

A rash of killings or kidnappings of staff from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations in recent weeks also threaten to sabotage the response to the emergency.

People in need

The overall number of people in need of food assistance is expected to rise to 3.5 million people by December. WFP has to double the amount of people it feeds from more than one million per month, to 2.4 million by December. CARE International and the International Committee of the Red Cross are to assist the remaining 1.1 million.

Families are increasingly hungry because they cannot afford to buy food, even if available in markets. Malnutrition among children under five is rising fast. NGOs have seen a drastic increase in the numbers of malnourished children and a sharp rise in admissions to nutritional centres.

WFP food rations for families with a malnourished child are being shared with neighbours. Villagers are resorting to eating wild tubers usually eaten by wild animals.

WFP is urgently buying food for Somalia in South Africa. The agency faces a shortfall in resources of US$210 million until the end of March 2009.

Facts:

-Despite piracy and attacks on aid workers, WFP is still delivering large amounts of food assistance to people in need every month in Somalia and is in a good position to continue its operations and scale up as long as donors support its life-saving work.

-A Dutch frigate escorted the final ship loaded with WFP food to Mogadishu at the end of June.

-Pirates have launched 24 attacks on vessels off Somalia’s eastern and northern coasts so far this year, but no escorted WFP ships were targeted despite an upsurge in attacks. There were 31 pirate attacks in 2007.

-Air or overland routes to Somalia would be unable to handle the vast volume of assistance which needs to be delivered.

-On 11 July, gunmen shot and wounded an aid worker with a WFP-partner NGO at a food distribution near Mogadishu. The head of another Somali NGO was shot and killed on the same day. Gunmen have killed five WFP-contracted transport staff in the country so far this year.