One of the few aid agencies excluded from a ban imposed by Al-Shabaab insurgents in Somalia has suspended food and seed distributions to 1.1m people in the south and centre of the country after local authorities repeatedly blocked its deliveries.
"The suspension will continue until we receive assurances from the authorities controlling those areas that distributions can take place unimpeded and reach all those in need, as previously agreed," said Patrick Vial, the head of the ICRC delegation for Somalia, in a statement released on 12 January.
Without specifically mentioning Al Shabaab, which controls most of the region, the ICRC said deliveries intended for 240,000 people in the Middle Shabelle and Galgaduud had been blocked since mid-December 2011.
"We are actively seeking the cooperation of the local authorities to restore conditions that will allow the resumption of the suspended activities as soon as possible," Vial said.
Some three million people in southern and central Somalia are need of humanitarian assistance because of the combined effects of drought and conflict. Of these up to 250,000 still live in famine conditions, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF), which launched operations against Al-Shabaab in Somalia in October, appealed for more humanitarian assistance to be provided to areas it had captured.
"We are calling on international organizations with the ability to provide humanitarian aid in areas under KDF/TFG [Transitional Federal Government of Somalia] control to do so," Maj Emmanuel Chirchir told IRIN.
Currently, Chirchir said, KDF/TFG and Ethiopian forces control parts of Gedo region and several supply routes in the south.
"The environment exists for aid work in areas and supply routes controlled by KDF/TFG because KDF/TFG can provide escort to aid workers; the aid agencies have to iron out with KDF/TFG ways and means of guaranteeing the security of aid workers," he said.
According to OCHA Somalia spokesman Russell Geekie, “Decisions about where humanitarians operate are based on need and the prevailing security situation so organizations are monitoring the situation closely."
Another senior humanitarian official told IRIN: “"Aid agencies are continually reassessing security in Somalia and do operate wherever it is safe enough. But they generally avoid being associated with any armed group, to demonstrate their neutrality."
“We cannot eat security”
Haji Hiifow, a resident of the town of Buurgabo, 90km from the Kenyan border and which is under the control of combined Kenyan and TFG forces, said the area was still reeling from the effects of a prolonged drought and has not recovered yet, despite the recent rains.
Hiifow said area residents and internally displaced people (IDPs) who fled to Buurgabo from other towns were facing food shortages. He said that there was no aid agency operating in the area.
Although the town was relatively secure now, Hiifow said, "we cannot eat security; we need something to eat and medical help".