Press Conference by United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia

23 September 2009

Press Conference by United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia

23 September 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia

Failing to respond to Somalia’s increased need would result in a “future of miserable destitution” and could tip the region into a far greater level of crisis, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia said today.

At a Headquarters press conference, Mark Bowden drew attention to the increasing and acute scale of the crisis, saying that Somalia was a priority case and that the implications of not responding carried the potential to destabilize the region through the movement of Somalia’s population out of the country.

Mr. Bowden said that in the past 18 months, the scale of the crisis had continued to deteriorate, and 3.6 million people -- nearly half the total population -- were now in need of continued support.  And yet, Somalia had been hit by a downturn in global humanitarian assistance.

Somalia was now moving into its fifth season of drought, which dramatically effected the population, he said, noting a spike in malnutrition among children.  The drought was also impacting a greater part of the country, in particular Somaliland and Puntland, as well as the epicentre in central and southern Somalia.

Added to its woes, Somalia also hosted the largest displaced population globally, with some 1.5 million displaced people living in conditions that were some of the worse in the world -- “worse even than in Darfur”, he added.

He said that Somalia was dependent on large levels of external assistance, and it was the most difficult and complex environment in which humanitarian organizations presently worked.  However, despite attacks on humanitarian workers and the many other obstacles, assistance levels had been maintained.

At the same time, the appeal for assistance had not been adequately met, and critical shortages remained in water sanitation, health and nutrition, which further endangered relief operations.  A far clearer picture about commitments for relief aid through the end of the year was needed.

Asked whether the World Food Programme (WFP) had used trucking companies which gave money to Al-Shabab, jeopardizing funding from the United States and the United Kingdom, and if the withholding of food was then being used as a political weapon, Mr. Bowden said he did not believe there was any “run off of money” to Al-Shabab.  He said measures were being taken to minimize any risks and that a risk management strategy had been introduced.

In terms of using food as a political weapon, Mr. Bowden said that humanitarian efforts in the area had a very fortunate asset in the Food Security Analysis Unit.  That “very transparent mechanism” had extensive coverage across the whole of Somalia, which conducted regular monitoring and assessment.

Asked if WFP had hired military contractors with funds allocated for food, in order to protect food supplies, Mr. Bowden said that was “for sure” not the case, adding that the United Nations had its own security system which strictly prohibited employment of armed guards.  Instead, efforts in the region relied on the local population and route assessments, and, in some parts of Somalia where there was a functioning government, safeguards were provided for United Nations staff and resources.

When asked how work being done by the humanitarian community had been affected by the United States air strike and if that had jeopardized efforts, Mr. Bowden said that it was too early to assess what the strike meant in humanitarian terms.  He reiterated that the main challenge was that 60 per cent of the population in need of assistance resided in areas controlled by Al-Shabab and that it was vital to continue providing assistance in those areas.  At this stage, people were not associating the air strike with the humanitarian effort.

Responding to a question about whether there were areas in Somalia in which either centres had closed or where there was no humanitarian access, Mr. Bowden said that yes, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) vaccine storage unit had been robbed and looted in Jowhar, but had since resumed operations.

A correspondent asked about threats issued by Al-Shabab against the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) and the United Nations Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) -- but not WFP or UNICEF -- and whether Al-Shabab viewed UNDP, UNDSS or UNPOS as overly partisan.

Mr. Bowden said those statements by Al-Shabab were “propagandist in nature”.  In fact, at the time, neither UNDP nor UNPOS had been working in any of the areas talked about by Al-Shabab.  It was especially unfortunate that DSS had been mentioned in that respect, since that body was crucial for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

He added that the Somali population as a whole had worked and lived with the United Nations “for many, many, many years” and had a deep knowledge of the United Nations system.  That could be used either in a negative way or work very profitably to provide better assistance for Somalia.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.