SOMALIA: "Country months away from major crisis"

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Drought, conflict, hyperinflation, high food and fuel prices, the weakness of the Somali shilling and a succession of poor harvests have increased the number of people needing food and other assistance to 2.6 million – up 40 percent from January.

At a news conference in Nairobi on 22 July, Mark Bowden, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, called the situation “fluid” and warned that “we are months before a major crisis” as the situation was likely to deteriorate further, potentially affecting 3.5 million, or half the total population.

Bowden said that “although this is a frightening figure to deal with”, it was the responsibility of the humanitarian community to provide assistance and seek ways to address the crisis.

Already, UN agencies and NGO partners of the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) had revised upwards the financial requirements from the original US$406 million to $637 million, an increase of 53 percent, in their mid-year review. Financing the CAP would be a challenge as the global price rises had increased costs and affected donor governments’ budgets too.

In Somalia, the critical food and livelihood crisis, combined with price hikes, very poor rains in the southern and central parts of the country, violence and limited or no access to the affected populations, was further exacerbating the situation and severely restricting the ability of humanitarian organisations to deliver assistance.

At the press conference, Beatrice Spadacini, media and communications manager for CARE International, said access was the greatest challenge facing humanitarian organisations.

She said in many parts of the country, particularly the central and southern regions, aid workers were increasingly being targeted. At least 19 UN and NGO aid workers have been killed and 13 others abducted since the start of 2008 and 31 piracy cases reported, in addition to 82 looting incidents.

Per Engebak, the director for the UN Children's Fund in eastern and southern Africa, said on average, it took 47 days to cover 200km, bypassing 400 checkpoints to deliver assistance to the vulnerable population,.

Peter Smerdon, a senior public affairs officer for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said: “WFP needs to double the amount of food it is bringing into Somalia to 32,000MT per month.” The agency was urgently appealing to governments to escort naval vessels to protect ships loaded with WFP food from piracy. At least 90 percent of all WFP food for Somalia arrives by sea.

Smerdon said the first unescorted ship loaded with WFP food was due to leave Mombasa on 22 July. Another ship had refused to load 12,000MT of cereals in South Africa without naval support, he added, and if this cargo did not leave South Africa soon for Mogadishu, one million people in Somalia would not receive cereals - the bulk of the food ration - in August.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Crop Prospects and Food Situation report released in July forecasts that the main Gu cereal crop, due for harvest from next month, is largely expected to fail as a result of a late start and poor rains in most parts of the country. According to the FAO’s Food Security Analysis Unit, if the Gu rains fail, the Somali shilling continues to fall, food prices continue to increase and civil insecurity worsens, potentially half the total population could face a humanitarian emergency or acute food and livelihoods crisis.