WFP warned today that a recent spate of ship hijackings off the coast of Somalia is restricting the delivery of urgently needed food assistance, posing a serious threat to the health and well-being of more than half a million Somalis in the drought-stricken and war-torn south of the country.
“The worsening humanitarian situation in southern Somalia is of deep concern to us and to our UN and NGO partners, especially with insecurity on the high seas hampering relief efforts,” said Zlatan Milisic, WFP Somalia Country Director.
“We may have to step up our deliveries of food aid, which will be extremely difficult under present circumstances.”
All this is on top of families being torn apart by civil war
Zlatan Milisic - Somalia Country Director
According to a recent inter-agency survey coordinated by FAO, there are some 640,000 people in southern Somalia, including displaced through flooding, in need of emergency assistance. The hardest-hit districts include Gedo, Bakool, Middle and Lower Juba.
Malnutrition rates in southern Somalia are unacceptably high, reaching 20 percent in some areas.
Drought is a major threat to those Somalis living away from rivers in Lower and Middle Juba and Gedo, where poor and patchy rainfall during the second rainy season in October and November are compounding an already desperate situation after the first rains failed earlier in the year.
“Pastoralists and their livestock are already on the move in search of water and pasture. If the rains do not pick up in the coming weeks, there will be a food shortage and hunger crisis at the end of the year in many districts of the south that will put lives at risk,” said Milisic.
“And all this is on top of families being torn apart by civil war.”
The southern Somali coastline is one of the most dangerous in the world; in recent months, WFP’s operations in Somalia have been sabotaged by the hijackings of two vessels carrying relief food. Ship owners are now demanding armed escorts to travel in these waters.
“Given the insecurity off the coast, we are exploring alternative transport routes, including overland from Kenya and via Djibouti, to reach those in desperate need of food assistance. But these other routes raise similar logistical and security challenges,” said Milisic.
Lack of access
WFP is also concerned about the lack of access for UN relief flights to several airstrips in southern Somalia.
WFP works closely with CARE and other non-governmental organisations to ensure food relief is received by the most vulnerable.
There is an extensive network of UN agencies, NGOs and local partners which provide life-saving support and oversee vital recovery initiatives. Insecurity and lawlessness affects the majority of these humanitarian operations, especially as aid workers have been the targets of kidnappings and killings.
Despite the hijackings, WFP’s operations in the chronic food insecure area of Juba Valley have continued. In the past two weeks, WFP has distributed some 830 metric tons of food in Jilib district reaching 80,000 beneficiaries and 725 tons to some 67,500 beneficiaries in Buale district. An additional 830 tons for 78,000 beneficiaries will be distributed in Sakow district.
WFP still requires 11,000 tons of food aid contributions from donors to provide sufficient assistance to those severely affected by food shortages throughout the country until mid-2006.