The top United Nations envoy in Somalia today called on the country's international partners to boost support to aid peacebuilding and humanitarian efforts there, while reaffirming that the world body has no plans to withdraw amid attacks by Al-Shabaab militants.
"It's a moment of great new opportunities but also some significant new challenges, and I think it's important that the international community and partners maintain their interest in Somalia and increase, if at all possible, some of the resources," Nicholas Kay told reporters in New York.
Mr. Kay, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), stressed that increased resources are vital for humanitarian efforts, for building up the Somalia National Army (SNA) and for the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM.
Regarding reports that the UN may decrease its presence in the country amid attacks by Al-Shabaab, the envoy noted that the group has targeted the UN in the past and he suspects that that it will continue to do so.
"The UN has no intention to withdraw from Somalia," he stated. "Quite the opposite, we are expanding our presence on the ground. As we speak, we have more UN people and more UN agencies present in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somali. I fully expect that that expansion of presence will continue. Our resolve is very, very strong."
Mr. Kay, who is at UN Headquarters along with AMISOM chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif for discussions with the Security Council, noted that the world body has a "unique collaboration" with the AU in Somalia, and "an extremely successful one" to date.
"We are at a time of some significant and quite remarkable success being made on the ground, particularly on the military campaign against Al-Shabaab," he stated.
The SNA and AMISOM have been pursuing a renewed offensive against Al-Shabaab, which in 2011 was forced to retreat from the capital.
The offensive, the most significant and geographically extensive military advance since AMISOM was created in 2007, has resulted in the Federal Government regaining access to 10 towns.
"It is giving us the opportunity now to support the Federal Government to provide better lives for the people in these areas, 10 towns of which now have been made accessible," said Mr. Kay. "And it is a significant opportunity to disable and reduce the capabilities significantly of Al-Shabaab to pose terrorist threats in Somalia and in the region."
At the same time, new challenges have arisen, the envoy noted. While the Government has control of 10 new towns across a geographically wide area, access is a challenge given that Al-Shabaab is blockading many of the road routes to the towns.
As such, there is a great need for air assets, particularly helicopters, to reach these areas. AMISOM currently has no helicopters.
Mr. Kay also cited a potential humanitarian challenge due to three factors: the blocking by Al-Shabaab of land routes needed to supply food to towns; the possible impact of the military offensive on planting and eventual harvesting; and unknown climatic conditions.
Somalia had a terrible famine over two years ago in which half a million people died, the Special Representative recalled.
"We are not in that situation yet, but we are watching very carefully the evolution of the situation over the next couple of months," he said, stressing the need for greater humanitarian funding. To date only 12 per cent of the $933 million sought for humanitarian operations in the country has been provided.
"If we were to face an acute food problem in the next few months, we do not have the money in the kitty to respond."