Famine grips Somalia


Women from sit in a line to receive aid at a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia.







30 November 2011 - NAIROBI (AlertNet) – A new exodus from famine-hit Somalia is likely following a ban by the al Shabaab rebel group on several major aid agencies, experts said on Wednesday.

The United Nations warned that some regions could tip back into famine because of the al Qaeda-affiliated militants’ Nov. 28 ban on 16 relief agencies in areas they control. Four million people in Somalia are going hungry, with 250,000 experiencing famine.

“If the assistance is cut, they don’t have access to food, to nutrition, to health, to water,” Philippe Royan, head of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) for Somalia, told AlertNet.

“It may trigger, again, a movement of people in search of assistance where they can – Mogadishu, Ethiopia and Kenya.”

Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world, is already in crisis, chronically overcrowded and partially flooded. Many agencies have suspended work there following the kidnapping of two aid workers in October.


The agencies banned by al Shabaab include the U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF), the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as non-governmental organisations.

Royan said ECHO’s partners are contacting the rebel group to understand the implications of the ban.

One of the main concerns is whether the aid pipeline, or transport system that large agencies use to deliver aid to regional partners, will be cut.  

For example, UNICEF transports its products for malnourished children to a network of international and local NGOs who provide emergency treatment to hundreds of thousands of children on the ground.

“If banning UNICEF means they don’t want to see any UNICEF representative in Baidoa, but that we can still send the trucks towards Baidoa to supply those local NGOs, then the impact would not be that much,” said Royan.

“Does it mean that the pipeline of acute malnutrition treatment products is cut? Then we would have a very serious problem.”


Without access to aid, people may flee to Mogadishu, the Somali capital where there are already almost 300 displaced people’s settlements. 

In October, 8,840 people arrived in Mogadishu, according to UNHCR. The majority were fleeing conflict in the Afgoye corridor, the world’s largest displaced person’s settlement, 30 km outside Mogadishu. It is already a famine zone, hosting 400,000 people.

“In Mogadishu, we have potentially this return from people who are in the Afgoye corridor quite close to the city,” Royan said.

“It will be difficult for the city, for the partners, to absorb many more because of all the logistics constraints we have working in a place like Mogadishu.”

He said some partners working in the Afgoye corridor, such as Islamic Relief, have not been banned and ECHO will see if it can help them to scale up their activities.


Thousands of starving people have already died on long-distance treks through the desert in search of help in neighbouring countries. Over the last few months, the exodus has slowed as more aid has been delivered inside Somalia.

“Recent military activity inside South Central Somalia will make this last-resort journey even more perilous,” Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner responsible for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and civil response, said in a statement.

There has been an upsurge in violence since Kenya’s invasion of Somalia six weeks ago, followed by an Ethiopian incursion, both aimed at destroying al Shabaab.

Insecurity has prevented the distribution of blankets and plastic sheeting to people in El Waq town in Gedo region on the Kenya-Somalia border, who have lost their homes to floods, the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its Nov. 29 update.


The number of people receiving food aid is likely to be about one million fewer in November than October, when 2.6 million were reached, OCHA said.

Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 28, only 1.5 million people received food aid because of insecurity and trucks getting stuck on muddy, rain-drenched roads.

Some deliveries are being re-routed via Ethiopia, worsening delays and costs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is the main agency providing food aid in al Shabaab-controlled southern Somalia because al Shabaab has banned the U.N. World Food Programme since February 2010.