Written By:Margaret Kalekye/agencies,
Posted: Wed, Jul 13, 2011
The World Food Programme said Wednesday it was mulling a return to Somalia’s rebel-held regions to help residents facing hunger due to a harsh drought that prompted the insurgents to appeal for aid.
Around three million Somalis, about a third of the entire population, are in need of humanitarian aid and last week the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels said they would allow foreign aid groups two years after expelling them.
Thousands of Somalis have fled into neighbouring Kenya and Uganda in the wake of the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in decades that has left millions of people facing starvation.
“With needs so great in southern Somalia, WFP is working with the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator to explore every possibility to return if conditions allow and if the necessary security clearance from the United Nations is granted,” it said in a statement.
In Kenya, Somalis fleeing violence and hunger have flocked at the world’s largest refugee camp in the east of the country, an overcrowded settlement hosting 380,000 refugees, more than four times its initial capacity.
Kenya says the influx of refugees into the Dadaab centre has generated into a humanitarian crisis.
Speaking at a press conference in his office Immigration Minister Mr. Otieno Kajwang acknowledged that about 2000 refugees were reporting at the centre each day stretching the facility further.
The minister said that the centre was built to cater for only 90,000 refugees but at the moment there are about 400,000 refugees and more are trooping in each day.
“The congestion is unacceptable, it is hard to plan as structures have been built on the roadways,” said Kajwang.
In what seemed to be a blame game the minister distanced himself from the delays in building of the new and better centre to cater for about 40,000 refugees.
“The provincial administration should explain why these refugees are held in deplorable conditions,” said the minister.
The minister said he had talked to UNHCR and that they promised to send an international appeal for assistance to avert the current situation.
However, the aid agency Oxfam blamed Kenya for the crisis.
The agency claimed that the government has refused to allow the use of a new camp completed last year to ease congestion at the three-camp Dadaab complex, citing insecurity posed by the Shebab as the country shares a long and porous border with Somalia.
WFP says will also consult with donor governments to ensure that they are comfortable with the complexities and risk associated with any resumption of humanitarian operations.
The Shebab, who control much of southern and central Somalia, in 2009 banned foreign aid organisations on accusations that they were against Islam and imposed tough conditions that effectively hampered any humanitarian activity.
The WFP pulled out of the Shebab territory in early 2010 due to threats against its staff and the difficult working conditions, including imposition of taxes and a ban on female employees.
“WFP will not stand by while the lives of hundreds of thousands, many of them children, are under threat in southern Somalia,” the agency said.
In a related development, the International Red Cross said Wednesday that malnutrition rates for children under five in central and southern Somalia now stood as the world’s highest.
“The nutritional state of children under five years of age in central and southern Somalia is a cause for great alarm,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross in a statement.
“Levels of malnutrition have reached a new peak and are currently the highest in the world,” it added.
Data from 39 clinics and 18 therapeutic feeding centres show that in some parts of Somalia, the number of children with severe acute malnutrition has almost doubled since March.
Earlier this month, the Shebab appealed for help, saying they would allow aid through to the drought- Relief groups have appealed for aid as they struggle to cope with the devastation, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urging action to avoid starvation.
During a visit to the region last week, the UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres said Somalis face the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Germany and the United States have pledged millions of dollars in aid of the drought victims, while British aid agencies last week launched a joint fundraising appeal for the Horn of Africa region.
Twelve million people in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have been affected by the drought that has decimated livestock, depleted food reserves and devastated livelihoods.