Somalia: Situation worsen as piracy and violence spreads

Published on Friday 18th July 2008

London: The UN World Food Program (WFP) warned Friday that attacks on aid workers on the ground and threats to ships delivering food aid to Somalia are jeopardizing the lives of millions who now need urgent food assistance.

WFP said in a statement that insecurity, drought, a succession of poor or failed harvests, are deepening the suffering of millions of people in the country, and pushing hundreds of thousands more into destitution.

The war-torn Horn of Africa country risked all-out famine if the threats continue, said Peter Goossens, the World Food Programme (WFP)'s country director for Somalia.

"Somalia is at a dire crossroads," he told a London news conference.

"If sufficient food and other humanitarian assistance cannot be scaled up in the coming months, parts of the country could well be in the grips of disaster similar to the 1992-1993 famine," when hundreds of thousands died, he added.

Earlier this week the UN issued fresh protests after gunmen killed a transport agent working for the WFP in Somalia, where millions of people are on the brink of starvation.

The man, who was shot in southern Somalia on Sunday, was the fifth WFP-contracted worker and the twelfth aid worker overall to be killed this year in the African nation.

Goossens warned that worsening security was hindering land and sea deliveries of food, noting that the WFP has appealed to foreign governments to provide naval escorts to protect WFP food ships against piracy.

French, Danish and Dutch naval escorts had proved invaluable over the last eight months, he said, lamenting that the UN agency has received no commitments for further escorts beyond June.

Some 90 percent of food aid arrives in Somalia by sea, according to the WFP, which says the overall number of people in need of food assistance is expected to rise to 3.5 million people by December, up from at least 2.6 million now.

UN officials have appealed to the Somali government and Islamist militants fighting for control of the country to spare aid workers, many of whom have been killed or kidnapped in recent months.

Aid groups have scaled down operations in Somalia because of increased insecurity, largely blamed on Islamist militants who have waged a guerrilla war since they were ousted by joint Somali-Ethiopian forces in early 2007.

A desert nation of up to 10 million people, Somalia has been wracked by violence since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, sparking a bloody power struggle.

A ceasefire, which came into force on July 9, a month after it was signed, has repeatedly been violated, the latest being on Tuesday when Islamists attacked a Mogadishu army camp, triggering clashes that claimed four civilians.