How operations to get aid into Somalia have been hit by a lack of cash in the build-up to the famine
A child from southern Somalia takes food at a camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photograph: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP
The famine in Somalia will spread unless the world community responds with greater urgency, the UN said this week. With more than 12 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti in need of aid, the UN says $1.4bn (£853m) is needed. Operations have been hit by a lack of cash in the build-up to the famine.
The biggest humanitarian agency operating in Somalia is the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. Due to the lack of resources, WFP had to reduce rations – including special fortified, nutritional products; cereal; vegetable oil and sugar – throughout Somalia by roughly 65% in April/May and 79% in June. Otherwise it would have run out of supplies by August. WFP managed to reach 49% of the planned beneficiaries – the most vulnerable populations in central regions and Mogadishu. In June, WFP reached 167,000 people affected, including malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers in the capital, with stocks of roughly 1,600 metric tons. In May it reached 289,500 people, with stocks of roughly 2,666 metric tonnes. The WFP received no shipments of food to Mogadishu between April and the beginning of July, during the critical period before famine was declared in parts of Somalia, because of a shortage of money.
The UN launched a consolidated appeal for Somalia last December, requesting nearly $530m to prevent the lack of resources that agencies experienced in the first half of this year. But there was a 50% shortfall with the consequent knock-on effects. It also takes time – to process donations, procure food and transport, and deliver it to the co-operating partners on the ground who will distribute it, can take between three to six months. WFP's stocks in Somalia in November were more than 10,000 metric tonnes of mixed commodities. By June, the figure had dropped to just over 2,500 metric tonnes. The WFP says it has received more than $250m from donors, but needs as much again to support its operations over the next six months. In all, the UN has increased its appeals for Somalia and Kenya by $600m, bringing the funding shortfall to $1.4bn. What is particularly galling for aid officials is that they saw the crisis coming, but found it hard to focus public attention as it was a cumulative event, unlike the Haiti earthquake or the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
The WFP has started an airlift to Mogadishu. More than 28 metric tonnes of a fortified peanut paste called supplementary plumpy has been flown into the Somali capital so far out of a total 100 metric tonnes intended for some 35,000 malnourished children. WFP is supplying cooked meals to about 85,000 people a day in the capital, where there has been renewed fighting between African Union troops backing the weak Somali government and al-Shabaab, the Islamist insurgents whose more extremist elements have aligned themselves with al-Qaida. Some 27,100 people, mainly from Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions – arrived in Mogadishu in July. The influx is expected to continue as the famine worsens over the next few months.
The two famine areas, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, in the south, are controlled by al-Shabaab, a disparate group of insurgents, some of whom want to allow western aid agencies to deliver food, while more hardline elements do not want to grant access, although organisations such as Islamic Relief say they have access to to the south. The International Committee of the Red Crescent, working with the Somali Red Crescent Society, is expanding a therapeutic feeding programme for children suffering from severe malnutrition in isolated rural areas in southern Somalia. WFP says it is trying to get food into al-Shabaab-controlled areas by working with any local partners or NGOs, many of them Islamic. The UN estimates that 3.7 million people are in crisis in Somalia with 3.2 million needing immediate help (2.8 million in the south). Help will be needed at least until December.
Relations have been difficult. In January 2010, the citing "unprecedented and inhumane attacks" and threats and demands by al-Shabaab. Besides insecurity problems, the group had demanded that the UN agency remove all women from their jobs and pay $20,000 every six months for "security" in some of the regions it controlled. When the WFP refused, it was given a deadline of 1 January to cease operations. The WFP has lost 14 staff over the past two years in Somalia and UN vehicles have been used by al-Shabaab in suicide bombings. Until its final break with al-Shabaab, the militia had allowed the WFP to work in areas it controlled, and the rebels' structure and organisation even helped delivery in some areas. But al-Shabaab began claiming that food aid was undercutting local farm production and accusing the WFP of having a political agenda.
UN officials last year complained that US restrictions designed to stop terrorists in Somalia from diverting aid were hurting humanitarian operations. The US reduced its funding to Somalia in 2009 after its office of foreign assets control (Ofac), part of the Treasury department, voiced concern about aid falling into the hands of al-Shabaab, designated by the US as a terrorist organisation. The cut contributed to a shortfall in funding that meant only two-thirds of the $900m needed for humanitarian aid for Somalia in 2009 was raised, UN officials said last year. Analysts say the WFP has been caught between cuts in US funding and pressure from al-Shabaab. "WFP has been put into an impossible position with both sides playing politics with humanitarian assistance and preventing it from doing what it should be doing," said Sally Healy, assistant fellow of the Africa programme at Chatham House, the international affairs thinktank. In response to concerns from humanitarian groups, the state department on Tuesday said it was issuing new guidance. "We hope this guidance will clarify that aid workers who are partnering with the US government ... are not in conflict with US laws and regulations that seek to limit the resources or to eliminate resources flowing to al-Shabaab," said a senior US administration official. "In essence, what we're doing here is working to reassure humanitarian assistance organisations and workers that good-faith efforts to deliver food to people in need will not risk prosecution." The official made it clear, however, that the US wants procedures to ensure that funds are not diverted to al-Shabaab.
A UN monitoring group report on the WFP's operations in Somalia issued last year contained damaging allegations. The report said WFP transportation contracts to Somali businessmen constituted the greatest single source of revenue in Somalia and just three contractors received 80% of this business in 2009, worth $200m. "There is no question that irregularities prevailing in the contracting environment and deficiencies in the certification of delivery facilitate opportunities for large-scale diversion," the report said. WFP, however, disputed the figures, saying its payments to all transport contractors came to just $62m not $200m, and that it had already taken steps to widen its pool of contractors and encourage competition. Nevertheless, WFP said it would no longer work with the three contractors named in