The U.N. World Food Program tells VOA that the Kenyan government is still blocking access to U.N. trucks trying to deliver food to more than 100,000 people in neighboring Somalia. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, Kenya is under pressure to keep the border closed for security reasons.
World Food Program Africa Information Officer Peter Smerdon says despite local media reports that two border points would be opened from Tuesday to allow humanitarian access into Somalia, the WFP has not received permission from the Kenyan government to begin food deliveries.
"We have seen reports in the media about the government allowing humanitarian assistance to cross, and therefore the food will be allowed to cross," he said. "But as of now, the food has not yet crossed."
Smerdon says the World Food Program has nearly five metric tons of food, which should have left the border aboard 141 trucks on May 25. After waiting to cross for more than a month, the trucks withdrew from the border, and the food, enough to feed 108,000 people for three months in nearby areas of Somalia, had to be stored in a warehouse.
Kenya closed its border with Somalia in early January after an Ethiopian-led offensive in Somalia toppled the six-month rule of the Islamic Courts Union. Several Islamist leaders, accused of having ties to the al-Qaida terror network, fled the capital, Mogadishu, with hundreds of loyal fighters and are still at large.
Kenyan authorities, concerned that potential terrorists could slip into the country, have refused requests from international aid agencies to re-open the border.
WFP's Peter Smerdon says the current situation is a disaster for an estimated one-million Somalis, who desperately need humanitarian assistance. He says his agency has been forced to use the Kenyan overland route because frequent pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia in recent months have cut in half the amount of food the World Food Program usually delivers by sea.
"Somalia has suffered from recurrent drought, floods, conflict for the past several years," continued Smerdon. "People's ability to survive has been steadily eroded. Much of south and central Somalia, the harvest is underway, but this harvest may well be a complete failure in many parts. So, that means there are going to be more people in need of humanitarian assistance."
Last week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs expressed concern that humanitarian convoys operating in Somalia were being subjected to extortion.
OCHA says information collected from 238 checkpoints in south-central Somalia indicated that convoys were routinely delayed for two to three days and forced to pay $20 to $500 per truck in passage fees.