Garowe Online (Garowe)

Somalia: Effect of the Suspension of WFP Aid in Country

United Nation's Food Agency, WFP temporarily suspended food aid distribution in southern Somalia on January, 03 2010 over Islamists threats.

"Due to threats, growing insecurity and unacceptable demands and conditions from armed groups in southern Somalia, WFP temporarily suspended its humanitarian operations in much of southern Somalia from 3 January" WFP spokes Peter Smerdon told Garowe Online.

The agency also temporarily closed its offices in southern Somalia but later on February 28th, 2010 Al-Shabaab barred their operations in Somalia.

"These unacceptable conditions and demands disrupted WFP's ability to reach many of the most vulnerable people in southern Somalia. But WFP will not abandon them. We are determined to reach all those in need and will continue to explore all options to return to full operations as soon as possible." He adds.

According to the last estimate from the United Nations, nearly half of Somalia's population is in dire need of urgent aid. The population is facing the worst humanitarian catastrophe for the last two decades.

Internal displaced people had hoped that WFP would restart its operation but this dream diminished on February 28th 2010, when Islamist vowed not allow back the agency.

Almost all of the IDPs live in southern Somalia and WFP was only the aid agency distributing food aid in Southern regions. WFP has worked in Somalia since 1967.

"Ninety-five percent of the territory in the South where we had to suspend our operations is controlled by the Al-Shabaab movement." WFP spokesman told GAROWE ONLINE.

Hunger, violence, lack of basic necessity and Al-Shabab ban over WFP operations in southern parts of the country made the situation worse than before.

WFP quoted on its website, it's the world largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. In 2010, the world food agency aims to feed more than 90 million people in 73 countries worldwide.

Al-Shabab barred WFP

Al-Shabab, Somalia's main radical group announced on 28th February that it had banned WFP from operating in areas under its control.

The armed group charged that food distributed by the agency had disadvantaged Somali farmers by distributing out-dated food and being politically motivated.

Al-Shabab also warned the local contractors working with WFP to avoid collaborating with the UN agency otherwise "anyone working with the agency will be seen serving the interest of WFP."

The group said they had received complaints from Somali farmers that the quantity of the WFP food aid prevented them from selling their own products at a fair price.

"Instead of buying grains from American farmers for high rate, why are they not buying food from Somali farmers for low price?" Sheikh Abu Mansoor Al-Shabab, former spokesman asked while addressing reporters in Mogadishu.

Analysts argue that even if the local farmers are to be given a chance to work on their farms they won't manage because they lack the necessary essentials to produce food that will feed the hungry millions of Somalis facing starvation.

"WFP distributes expire food and it caused a number of people to fall ill," Al-Shabaab official told GAROWE ONLINE on phone.

WFP said its role in Somalia is non political.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers to operate, WFP was one of the few aid agencies working in this dangerous situation and it was feeding more than nearly two million Somalis.

Al-Shabab militias control most of south and central Somalia, last year they banned foreign aid groups to operate in the areas under their control after they refused to pay $20,000 USD tax twice a year.

Al-Shabab also accused aid workers as spying to the Western countries.

IDPs condition is Appalling

The situation in the overcrowded internally displaced camps is miserable; there is lack of everything, from medical facilities to clean water, sanitation, sufficient food and shelter.

March and April are the two hottest months in Somalia and for sure the destitute in the camps will languish.

WFP ban will make the condition worse than ever, thousands of IDPs used to get food aid from local NGOs that partner with WFP, but now there are hopeless after Al-Shabab banned them to operate in Somalia. The impact will be huge on IDPs who have nowhere to seek assistance.

Hawo Mohamed Ali, 29, living in one of the overcrowded camp at Elasha Village, southwest of the restive capital Mogadishu told GAROWE ONLINE "I don't have job, I used to get food from aid agencies but after Al-Shabab banned NGOs, we are in very despair condition more than ever,"

Miss Ali fled from the capital early 2009 after mortars hit her neighbor's house and some of her friends died including her sister and young brother.

"There is no hope to get food and no one is caring us now, I am appealing to the aid agencies to come back," Miss Ali plead.

Ali is experiencing the worst time of her life and she says the life is not getting any better.

Hundreds like Hawo Mohamed are in the same conditions and some of them don't know where to go, inside Somalia it seems every year things are getting worse than ever.

According to AFP, Hasina Mohamed, a mother of seven lashed at the Al-Shabaab for failing to understand the plight of their displaced countrymen.

"We believe that those trying to stop the small food aid don't know how bad our situation is in those camps," she said.

Elders Appeal

One day later after Al-Shabab banned WFP; Elders at Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia held a press conference and appealed to aid agencies to bring urgent food aid.

"Drought hit most of the districts in lower Shabelle region, we are appealing to WFP and other aid agencies to come back and bring urgent food," the elders said in their joint press conference.

Ali Sheikh, an elder in central Somalia told GAROWE ONLINE "The IDPs have many problems such as lack of sanitation, water and food. Last days they didn't get food aid from the aid agencies, we are requesting the agencies to help them."

US is politicizing food aid

The situation is really horrendous in south and central Somalia, and the war between Al-Qaeda and USA in the Horn of Africa affected food aid agencies in Somalia. Many say the US policy is having huge negative impact on people's humanitarian needs.

United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, told the reporters in Nairobi that USA is politicizing humanitarian policy of Somalia.

USA is the biggest Somali humanitarian aid donor, and has been voicing concern of reports of food aid diverted to the rebel groups.

Washington's concern was recently confirmed by a UN report that highlights the food aid operations in Somalia.

According to VOA, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger, who also acts as the top regional U.S. official on Somalia, accused Al-Shabaab of being the one playing politics with the people's humanitarian needs, pointing in part to the group's earlier banning of U.S.-marked food aid in its territory.

"We have not put down a set of conditions per se. We look at this as a practical problem, and we are looking for practical solutions. So, it's part of a dialogue. We haven't said, '1-2-3 and then go.' You just can't in a situation like this; it's too murky, it's too complex," he said.

UN REPORT on WFP

According to report, by the UN monitoring group in Somalia, half the food aid in Somalia is diverted to corrupt contractors, local UN workers and Islamist militants.

It says WFP contracts are awarded to a few powerful individuals who operate cartels that sell the food illegally.

WFP said on 11th March, they would welcome an independent investigation into its food assistance operations in Somalia. At the same time, the agency said it would not engage in any new work with three transport contractors named in the UN Monitoring group report.

"The integrity of our organization is paramount and we will be reviewing and investigating each and every issue raised by this report," said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran.

"WFP stands ready to offer full cooperation with any independent inquiry into its work in Somalia."

Sheeran added that WFP survives every day with the dangerous realities of Somalia operation and would do everything it could to reach the hunger-ridden population in the war-torn country.

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