The United Nations World Food Program's director for Somalia says attacks on aid workers and threats to ships delivering food aid to Somalia are putting in danger the lives of the millions who now need urgent food assistance. He also called for a boost in humanitarian assistance to the country. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA from London.
Addressing a press briefing in London, Peter Goossens said insecurity, drought and a succession of poor or failed harvests, are deepening the suffering of millions of people in the country and pushing hundreds of thousands more into destitution. The situation, Goossens added is worsened by the weakness of the Somali shilling against the dollar, coupled with rising food and fuel prices.
"We are currently assisting 2.5 million," he said. "That number is likely to go up towards the end of this year 2008 to 3.5 million, that is half of the population of Somalia."
Goossens added that many families are going hungry even when food is available in the markets because of the high prices. This has led to some villagers surviving on wild tubers usually eaten by animals. As a result, he said, malnutrition in under five-year-olds is on the increase.
WFP is urgently buying food for Somalia in South Africa but it faces a shortfall of $210 million until the end of March 2009. But the shortage of food is not the only problem.
"On top of everything else we have the issue of piracy, what makes shipping large volumes of food into Somalia a very hazardous undertaking, it's very difficult to find vessels that are willing to go into Somali ports unless with navy escorts," said WFP director.
Some western countries provided naval protection for the ships for some months but this ended last month. Since then, Goossens has noticed reluctance on the part of ship owners to ferry food to Somalia.
This, the WFP Somalia chief said, is understandable, as pirates have launched 24 attacks on vessels off Somalia's eastern and northern coasts so far this year. No escorted WFP ships were targeted. He added that overland or air options would be unable to handle the huge amounts of food which need to be delivered. Goossens appealed to countries with the capacity to come forward and protect the food carrying ships.