WFP urges Somali leaders, militias to protect aid agencies after shooting

Published on 23 March 2006

Following a fatal shooting at a food distribution in southern Somalia, WFP appeals to leaders and militias throughout Somalia to provide access and protection to humanitarian agencies.

Following a fatal shooting at a food distribution in southern Somalia, WFP appealed today to leaders and militias throughout Somalia to provide access and protection to humanitarian agencies to enable them to respond to a worsening drought emergency.

Some 1.4 million people in southern Somalia need emergency food aid and other humanitarian assistance because of drought.

However, the massive effort needed to save their lives is being seriously jeopardized by threats and attacks against aid convoys and workers as well as acts of piracy at sea.

Gunfire

Humanitarian agencies cannot operate where assistance is being targeted. We are already seriously challenged by the logistics of this mission and shouldn’t have to watch our backs as well.

Zlatan Milisic, WFP Country Director

On 21 March, WFP-contracted trucks with WFP food aid were being unloaded at a food distribution in Salagle village in Sakow district in the south when two local militias exchanged gunfire. At least one local person was killed and several others were wounded.

The distribution was stopped and WFP staff withdrew.

The food distribution was unable to resume the following day because of continuing tension in the area.

Condemns

WFP condemns in the strongest terms this act of violence and calls on the local communities in southern Somalia to act decisively against the culprits.

The agency expresses its sincere condolences to the family of an innocent bystander killed in this incident and hopes for the speedy recovery of the injured.

“Targeting humanitarian assistance is totally unacceptable; it is callous and violates all international humanitarian principles,” said Zlatan Milisic, WFP Somalia Country Director.

Unnecessary suffering

“Humanitarian agencies cannot operate where assistance is being targeted. We are already seriously challenged by the logistics of this mission and shouldn’t have to watch our backs as well. We rely on Somali leaders to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers and cargo,” Milisic added.

WFP stressed that insecurity delayed the humanitarian response and caused unnecessary suffering at this difficult time for those in need, particularly the most vulnerable – women and children.

Milisic appealed again to all those with power and influence in Somalia to combine their resources and help their people survive.

Seriously hampered

Humanitarian operations in Somalia, where this year a total of 2.1 million people are in urgent need of food aid and other support, are being seriously hampered because of insecurity and lawlessness.

A UNICEF staff member was abducted in southern Somalia on 1 March and released 30 hours later.

On 13 March, a WFP-chartered ship managed to escape during an attack by pirates when it came under fire at sea a few hours after unloading WFP food aid at the port of Merka.

No one was injured but the vessel was hit by gunmen who tried to intercept and board it from a boat.

A spate of ship hijackings off Somalia in 2005, including the detention of two WFP-contracted ships, has slashed ocean transport to the Horn of Africa country and forced WFP to use costlier overland routes to transport food from the port of Mombasa in Kenya.

Cheaper

WFP is now using a combination of overland and sea routes to increase food deliveries because of the drought in the south. It is 30 percent cheaper to bring food aid in to Somalia by sea than by land.

“Continued insecurity and interruptions to assistance have the potential to kill thousands of Somalis, as surely as bombs and bullets,” said Milisic.

Since mid-February, WFP has distributed 7,700 metric tons of food to 470,000 people in southern Somalia. An additional 10,000 tons of WFP food aid for 600,000 people is currently in the country and being transported for distribution.

WFP has so far received US$ 73 million out of the US$ 130 million that it needs to feed one million people in the south this year. Another 400,000 people will be fed by the non-governmental organization, CARE, in the south.