The US government is to put special conditions on its humanitarian grants for at least 13 aid agencies operating in Somalia.
This could unlock millions of dollars in relief resources that had been on hold due to US anti-terrorism rules.
A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued in August 2009 said delayed US funding was affecting food relief and other operations.
"It is true that some humanitarian funding was placed on hold, pending resolution of the OFAC [US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] issue," Russell Brooks, a press officer at the State Department, told IRIN by e-mail.
Now, however, "USAID, State, and Treasury have reached an agreement that will enable humanitarian programmes to move forward, pending implementing partner acceptance of a series of conditions that must be written into each award," Brooks wrote.
The delays began earlier in the year when, senior humanitarian sources say, some USAID funding for Somalia was unable to meet the approval of OFAC, which enforces US anti-terrorism and other sanctions.
Large parts of southern and central Somalia are under the control of armed groups regarded as terrorists by the US. The US, in common with the UN, African Union and EU, supports the fragile Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The country as a whole is not subject to US sanctions.
USAID, State and Treasury departments appear to have found a solution for the delivery of aid to continue legally, without violating sanctions on groups or individuals, including Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab.
"It is Al-Shabab, not US bureaucracy, that threatens to deny Somalis urgently needed humanitarian aid," Brooks stated.
Agencies affected by the USAID funding delays include UN agencies and NGOs.
The nature of the proposed "series of conditions" was not stated.
In US financial year 2008, USAID provided US$319 million ($274.2 million in humanitarian assistance and food aid) to Somalia; in 2009 it has provided $189 million in humanitarian assistance.
Photo: Hassan Mahamud Ahmed/IRIN
|A woman prepares food: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a report in August saying delayed US funding was affecting food relief and other operations in Somalia (file photo)|
"We are concerned about the situation in Somalia and determined to assist the people of Somalia," Brooks added. "USAID will continue to review its policies and procedures for the provision of humanitarian assistance in Somalia, and this review will include ensuring compliance with US laws designed to prevent potential support to terrorists."
Concerned by the recent reports about aid being held back, the Somali government has urged agencies working in Somalia to provide assistance to all drought-affected and displaced people regardless of who they are or where they live.
"The policy of this government [TFG] is to encourage all of our partners to provide assistance to all of our people, regardless of where they are," Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar, the Interior Minister, told IRIN.
"The government is at war with Al-Shabab but not with the Somali people... we will not do or advocate anything that will add to suffering of our people."
Timothy Othieno, a London-based conflict analyst, said any policy of giving aid only to areas under government control could not work and could have unintended consequences.
"It may be counter-productive, especially in terms of winning the hearts and minds of displaced people and Somalis in general," he said. "Psychologically, it would give the insurgents an opportunity to justify their opposition to the TFG and its allies."
Asha Sha'ur, a prominent member of civil society in Somalia, pointed out that the displaced did not choose where to live. "I think most of them will tell you they want to go home," she explained. "They have no say on who controls their area. If they did I am sure many of these groups would not be there," she added.
Somalia is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years, according to the UN. An estimated 3.8 million need aid - almost half the total population. UNHCR estimates that the number of displaced who fled fighting between government forces and two Islamist insurgent groups has reached more than 1.5 million.