Somalia: Counterterrorism Laws Intensify Somali Food Crisis, Experts Say

London — Counterterrorism laws restricting the flow of cash to Somalia are severely harming efforts to prevent a famine similar to the 2011 catastrophe which killed 260,000 people, experts have said.

Somalis living abroad have in the past sent home around $1.3 billion a year in remittances, which play a vital role in providing relatives with food and medicine..

Virtually all major US banks have stopped offering remittance services to Somalis in the United States because of counterterrorism legislation aimed at cutting off the flow of funds to groups like the Islamist militant al Shabaab. Other western banks have come under pressure to follow suit.

Degan Ali, chief executive of Adeso, an NGO which works in East Africa, told a panel discussion in London that "In the last two famines (in 1991-2 and 2011), the worst affected communities were those with no diaspora presence," while those receiving funds from relatives abroad had access to better healthcare, education and nutrition.

Dahabshiil, a money transfer company heavily involved with Somalia, has been engaged in a legal dispute with Barclays over the UK-based bank's attempts to close the firm's account.

Other financial organisations have also come under pressure from stringent regulations aimed at combating money laundering and the funding of terrorism.

STARVING TO DEATH

Dahabshiil chief executive Abdirashid Duale told the same panel at the Africa Research Institute in London on Monday that ordinary Somalis, trapped between constrained international organisations and nefarious militant groups, were "in the middle, starving to death".

Sara Pantuliano of the Overseas Development Institute said the restrictions on sending funds to Somalia meant money would be transferred by informal means, making it harder for authorities to track the flow of cash.

So far only 28.7 percent of the $933 million required for humanitarian assistance in Somalia in 2014 has been received, according to the Financial Tracking Service, which tracks global humanitarian aid.

Ali blamed competing crises for the shortfall and said inadequate planning by relief agencies and bad weather were exacerbating the problem. U.S. NGOs are scared of operating in Somalia because of the stringent laws to prevent the funding of terrorist groups, she said.

"In Somalia we have around 2.9 million people who are highly food insecure. There are also around 50,000 severely malnourished children, 1 million people are displaced throughout the country, and polio has returned," she said.

Only 30 percent of Somalis have access to clean drinking water, and fewer than this in the south of the country, she added.

WARNING SIGNS

Somalia's last major famine in 2011 killed around 260,000 people, according to the United Nations. It was caused by drought, conflict and a ban on food aid in territory held by al Shabaab.

Conditions now are similar to those in 2011.The last two rainy seasons have been poor, and al Shabaab weakened the Mogadishu-based government's authority by attacking the presidential palace. on July 8.

"In the last famine it took about 16 warnings before a famine was formally declared. We are now on warning number eight," said Ali. "In 2011, we said we responded too late, and we should have been responding at warning number three, four or five."

Philippe Lazzarini, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said in May that Waiting for an official declaration of famine could lead to tens of thousands of deaths. Half of those who died in 2011 did so before the official declaration of a famine, he said.

Editing by Tim Pearce; timothy.pearce@thomsonreuters.com

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