Uptick in attacks forces UN food agency to shut down programmes in Somalia

Women at a WFP food distribution centre in Somalia

5 January 2010 – Mounting “inhumane” attacks on humanitarian workers, as well as unacceptable demands made by armed groups, have forced the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to shut down some of distributions for up to one million hungry people in Somalia, the agency said today.

Escalating attacks against WFP’s humanitarian operations in southern Somalia have made it “virtually impossible” for the agency to continue its work, it said in a statement.

“WFP is deeply concerned about rising hunger and suffering among the most vulnerable due to these unprecedented and inhumane attacks on purely humanitarian operations,” it added.

“WFP is an impartial, non-political humanitarian agency that has been working in partnership with the people of Somalia for more than 40 years, providing assistance to the poorest of the poor throughout Somalia’s years of conflict and before,” the agency underscored. “The recent pressures on our work from armed groups in southern Somalia are impeding our humanitarian mandate.”

It is repositioning stocks from southern areas in case people begin to move away from areas where food distributions have been suspended. Six of its offices in southern Somalia are temporarily closed, and staff have also been moved to safer areas to ensure the food assistance continues to reach as many of those in need as possible.

Staff safety is of paramount concern to WFP, and recent attacks, threats, harassment and demands for payments – for up to $20,000 every six months to ensure staff safety – by armed groups have choked the humanitarian food lifeline. Further, WFP has received demands to remove women from their jobs.

Agency spokesperson Emilia Casella told reporters in Geneva that 95 per cent of the territory where WFP operations had been disrupted was controlled by the Al-Shabaab opposition group.

In the rest of the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had a functioning government in nearly two decades, WFP continues to provide life-saving food supplies to over two-thirds of the people it has been targeting – or 1.8 million people.

“Even in good years, Somalia is only able to meet 40 per cent of the food needs of its population through internal production,” WFP – whose operation to reach all Somalis in need is fully funded for the coming months – pointed out.

On average in the past five years, only one-third of the food needed to feed all Somalis was to be locally produced.

WFP is working closely with its partners to have supplies ready for Somalis moving within the country and also crossing borders into neighbouring nations.

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