UN humanitarian envoy urges world to aid Somalia


Nairobi : The UN special humanitarian envoy has called for the international community, in particular Muslim nations, to step up aid to war-torn Somalia, which is facing a growing humanitarian emergency.

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“Today, as we are about to enter the Holy month of Ramadan, I urge the international community, and in particular the global Muslim community, to exercise their moral and religious duty in support of the Somali people,” Abdul Aziz Arukkban said Thursday.

Much of Somalia, particularly the South Central region, is in the throes of a food crisis brought on by a brutal insurgency, drought and rising food prices.

The latest report by the UN’s Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU), released Tuesday, said the number of people in urgent need of food and other humanitarian assistance has reached 3.2 million, an increase of 77 percent from the beginning of the year.

The figure represents 43 percent of the Somali population.

Arukkban Wednesday travelled to South Central Somalia, where the food crisis is at its worst, and also visited the Dabaab refugee camp complex in neighbouring Kenya, which hosts over 200,000 Somali refugees.

“I saw women and children in bad conditions…. sometimes under the shade of a tree with no food,” he told journalists in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. “I am here to add my voice to the silent cry of millions of Somalis.”

UN agencies say over 6,000 civilians have died in an insurgency that exploded in early 2007 after Ethiopian troops kicked out the Islamist regime and helped reinstate the transitional government.

Almost one million Somalis have fled fighting in the capital Mogadishu and are now living in camps outside the city or have crossed the border to Kenya.

While the fighting is directly impacting the crisis, Cindy Holleman, Chief Technical Adviser for the FSAU Somalia, said the indirect impact was worse.

“More importantly, it (the violence) has a wider impact in terms of creating an economic crisis,” she said.

Driven by the conflict, the Somali shilling has devalued by 165 percent since January 2007 while prices have increased by 700 percent since the beginning of this year, the FSAU report said.

Marc Bowden, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said that the UN would have to step up its efforts in face of the deepening crisis.

“We have no option but to do more and do it better,” he said.

However, as the need becomes more pressing it is becoming more difficult to deliver aid.

Insurgents have increasingly targeted humanitarian workers for kidnappings and killings in recent months.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been hit particularly hard, with five contracted drivers and one direct employee shot dead this year so far.

Piracy off the Somali coast is also a problem, and the WFP is now having its shipments protected by a Canadian warship.

Bowden warned that the UN would have to spend more money on security for its staff.

“We have to invest in the security of our staff, but that comes at a cost,” he said. “That cost is rarely met by donors.”

Somalia has been plagued by chaos and clan-based civil war since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991.