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ICRC Suspends Food Aid to 1.1 Million Somalis

Children from southern Somalia get cooked food at a local NGO's compound in Mogadishu, Somalia, September14, 2011. (File)

Children from southern Somalia get cooked food at a local NGO's compound in Mogadishu, Somalia, September14, 2011. (File)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is temporarily suspending distribution of aid to more than one million people in central and southern Somalia, after local authorities blocked deliveries of food and seeds.

In mid-December, authorities in Jowhar, in the Middle Shabelle region of central Somalia, stopped a Red Cross humanitarian convoy for what they called a quality check. Four weeks later, the ICRC says it hasn't received any reason why authorities are still holding up the convoy, and due to that, they have decided to suspend its operations in central and southern Somalia.

Anna Schaaf is ICRC Africa's communication officer. She says the agreement on food distribution the ICRC had with local authorities is not being respected, and that until they have guarantees they will not distribute the food.

"We had an agreement that they would respect our working modalities, which allow us to work as a neutral and independent humanitarian organization," said Schaaf. "So we have working modalities that are the same all over the world, which means for example we are the ones who are making assessment on the ground and we are the ones deciding what we are distributing and where exactly."

Schaaf says the ICRC is very much concerned about the situation and called on local authorities to give a quick explanation on why they are holding trucks full of food aid.

"Now we would like to know what the reason is for the blockade of this convoy, and we would like to have guarantees our working modalities are respected in the future, so that we can actually go on with food distribution as planned for 1.1 million people," added Schaaf.

Schaaf did not specifically say who is blocking ICRC supplies from reaching Somalis in need. However, Middle Shabelle is controlled by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, which has banned most aid groups from operating in the areas under its control. ICRC is one of the few humanitarian aid agencies that has been given access and is providing basic needs in central and southern Somalia.

The humanitarian crisis in the region remains one of the worst on the planet. Several parts of southern Somalia were declared famine zones last year, and the region has suffered through years of drought and conflict.

The drought has eased in recent months thanks to improved rains, but insecurity remains high in the south, where Kenyan forces who entered Somalia in October are fighting frequent battles with al-Shabab.