"Lives before politics"

Twenty aid agencies issued an open letter on 21 September urging the international community to "put people’s lives before politics if [we are] to stand any chance of aiding people suffering from the famine in Somalia".



The agencies said that while aid was getting through in many areas, "it is not at the scale needed to address the enormity of the crisis and hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance".



They warned that with the coming rains expected to bring the threat of deadly disease, restrictions were still preventing the rapid boost in aid that was so desperately needed to save lives.



The letter urged the international community to change its approach to Somalia "and enhance diplomatic engagement with the parties to the conflict, to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid".



The number of aid agencies operating in the country has risen sharply in recent months, but "we are receiving only around 30 to 40 percent of the food needed", Abdullahi Shirwa, head of Somalia's National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), told IRIN.



Although aid agencies were scaling up assistance to tens of thousands in Mogadishu and parts of southern Somalia, Shirwa said these attempts were being hampered by the lack of proper delivery mechanisms.



"We don’t have the roads, the transport capacity [or] the human resources [to deliver aid] and insecurity in parts of the country is an issue of concern," Shirwa said.



He said that lack of proper planning by aid agencies, the constant movement of people and not enough food supplies were all contributing to the delay in reaching the needy.



"In some camps the health situation is better than the food situation, while in others the food situation is better than health and sanitation.



"We should have started planning for this much earlier, maybe May. We are all still catching up."



Ahmed Adam, country director for the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), told IRIN his group was working to improve coordination among the organizations under OIC and with agencies outside the umbrella of the OIC.














Photo: IRIN
Lack of proper planning by aid agencies, the constant movement of people and inadequate food supplies have contributed to delays in reaching the needy, an aid official said (file photo)

He said the OIC would cooperate with any agency, "because we are all working towards one goal; saving lives".



Aid gaps



The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Somalia), said aid agencies reported in August they had reached 1.3 million people, "which would be 32 percent of the four million people currently in need", said Roberta Russo, a spokeswoman.



According to OCHA, there are at least 30 humanitarian agencies working in Mogadishu and more than 60 in southern Somalia.



Regarding food aid delivery to areas under Al-Shabab control, OCHA said: "In general, our position is that we continue to negotiate with any local authority to be able to reach people in need. Aid should be delivered following humanitarian principles, to the people who are most in need, wherever they are."



Policy "confusion"



An aid worker, who requested anonymity, told IRIN the Somali government's sometimes confused policy concerning access to areas under Al-Shabab was contributing to delays in delivery. "One minute they say you can go anywhere you want and the next they say you cannot go to Al-Shabab territory. It is as if the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. It is very confusing."



Mogadishu Mayor Mohamud Ahmed Nur had said no foreign aid workers would be allowed to cross into Al-Shabab areas. On 13 September, Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces arrested four Turkish aid workers who had delivered food to displaced families in K50, controlled by Al-Shabab. They were later released.



Abdisamad Mohamud Hassan, the Minister for Interior and National Security, told IRIN the TFG's policy on delivering aid to the affected population was clear. "Any one individual or agency willing to help those in need is welcome to go anywhere there is a need, whether in Al-Shabab areas or the government’s."



Hassan said the Somali people, particularly those in areas under Al-Shabab control, continued to be deprived of the aid they needed to survive "and getting help to them is the number-one priority".



But the efforts to reach them should not endanger those who came to help. "We must find the best way to deliver food and protect the aid workers," he said, adding, "This is the government policy and anyone who says otherwise is wrong and does not speak for the government."



ah/mw