The World Food Programme today hailed the French navy for protecting WFP food ships from pirate attacks in Somalia, and thanked Denmark for taking over the operation to ensure critical escorts continue for the next two months.
"Safe travel through Somali waters has made an enormous impact on our ability to reach more than a million hungry, vulnerable people," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, from WFP's headquarters in Rome.
"As food security continues to deteriorate in Somalia, and the number of hungry people is set to rise, I urge other governments to step forward in the same spirit of cooperation."
Late last year, for the first time in its history, WFP food ships travelled under naval escort through some of the most dangerous waters in the world today.
The response by the French government followed WFP’s appeal to the international community when food ships came under attack and piracy presented a major barrier to the delivery of vital relief supplies.
In 2007, a total of 31 acts of piracy – three of them against ships ferrying WFP food to Somalia – were reported off the Somali coast, with 154 crew members taken hostage in 11 separate hijackings.
Since the French escort operation began in mid-November, a total of nine shipments carrying over 30,000 metric tons of food – enough to feed 300,000 people for six months – were landed safely at the ports of Mogadishu and Merka.
French frigates escorted ships from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, north through some of the most dangerous stretches of Somali waters to within sight of their offloading points.
The escorts protected food deliveries at a critical time. Some 670,000 people fled fighting in Mogadishu in 2007, and some of the food went to provide two million cooked meals for the hungry in conflict-torn Mogadishu. In other parts of Somalia, thousands of other people struggled with the worst cereal harvest in 13 years.
"Smooth flow of food"
Thanks to the escorts, WFP was able to build up in-country stocks – critical to assuring a smooth flow of food. WFP expects to feed 1.8 million people in Somalia in 2008 – up from 1.53 million in 2007.
The escorts also encouraged ship owners to make their vessels available to WFP for deliveries to Somalia.
With Denmark taking over the naval escort from France, WFP said it can build on gains made these last few months. Other ships plying the same waters will also benefit from the overall improvement in security.
Other UN agencies and NGOs are now interested in sharing vessel capacity with WFP to deliver other important humanitarian supplies.
As life gets increasingly difficult for many in Somalia, WFP urgently needs US$15 million to buy nearly 20,000 metric tons of food to cover shortfalls until June. Without new donations, WFP food will run out as early as March.