WFP Reaches Hungry Across Somalia’s Frontlines

Published on 14 July 2009

Abdul Nasser Ali Samatar fled fighting in Mogadishu eight months ago with his wife and two children. Today, they receive WFP food while waiting for the fighting to die down so they can go home.

Copyright: WFP/Peter Smerdon

The flight of more than 200,000 people from Somalia’s war-torn capital Mogadishu since May is the latest chapter in the crisis in the Horn of Africa. It underlines how WFP must operate on all sides of the country’s conflict to reach the powerless and hungry.

 BUALE -- The southern town of Buale and Dhusa Mareb, the parched capital of Somalia’s central Galgadud region, are just two of the struggling areas where WFP works – feeding more than two million people in June, the height of the hunger season before the August Gu harvest.

Buale is controlled by the Islamist Al-Shabab movement, while Ahlu Sunna wal Jama – another armed movement but allied with the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu -- holds sway over Dhusa Mareb. The armed groups in both places are at odds, but the thousands of civilians are united, utterly exhausted from 18 years of civil war.

“WFP’s responsibility is to get to vulnerable people – women and children who really are starving,” says WFP Somalia Deputy Country Director Denise Brown, on visit to the two towns. 

“There are armed groups standing in front of us,” Brown says. “We talk to them. We explain our conditions for working, which is security, and we need to move through these people, these groups, to get to the starving people behind them…There is no choice.”

A balancing act

Trying to help nearly half the country’s population who need humanitarian assistance to survive is a delicate and sometimes very dangerous balancing act.

The killings of four WFP staff in southern Somalia between August 2008 and January 2009 prompted WFP teams to visit scores of towns and villages in southern and central Somalia to seek commitments from local authorities and armed groups that staff could work safely.

“Security is very bad in most areas of Somalia,” admits Buale clan elder Hussein Mahmoud Qorane. But after discussions, elders and local authorities can now offer those security commitments, he says -- and the district’s hungry and malnourished receive WFP food assistance.

Feeding 100,000 children

The agency is now feeding more than 100,000 children under the age of five in Galgadud and neighbouring Mudug region to bring down malnutrition rates that are currently well above emergency levels.

Seventeen kilometers north of Dhusa Mareb, former Mogadishu minibus driver Abdul Nasser Ali Samatar, 28, says his family is waiting to see if the fighting dies down so they can go home. They arrived in this windy patch of semi-desert eight months ago.

“Sometimes I can get work in town and we sell firewood. Of course we get food from WFP – a family ration every month,” he says. “We don’t get anything from anyone else.”

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Peter Smerdon

Snr. Public Affairs Officer

Peter Smerdon was a foreign correspondent for 20 years, mainly with Reuters in Africa and the Middle East.