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August 07, 2011

Somali Government Welcomes US Aid

by Peter Clottey

U.S. President Barack Obama has approved $105 million in new drought and famine aid to East Africa. The White House says the United States will continue to help those who desperately need food, shelter, water and medicine.

Abdirahman Omar Osman, the spokesman for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, said the funds will go a long way in helping countries in the Horn of Africa address the famine.

The crisis has forced hundreds of thousands of people to become either refugees or be internally displaced.

“This is excellent news that the Somali people wanted at this critical moment of our history,” said Osman. “The US has been an ally and [it] has been assisting us in fighting terrorism. And now for them to put more effort on humanitarian aid in particular… will greatly help [ease] the suffering of our people.”

The United States has already contributed $565 million in aid to Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya

The U.S. delegation led by Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, arrived in Kenya earlier Monday to assess the regional impact of the drought.  

Mrs. Biden toured the Dadaab refugee camps and the tens of thousands of Somali famine refugees who have fled there in recent weeks.

Many come from famine areas in southern Somalia under the control of the militant Islamic group al-Shabab.

The U.S. offer comes as the African Union rescheduled a conference to raise money for drought and famine relief.

Several heads of state and government across Africa are expected to participate in the summit, which is now set for August 25.

The continental body has asked member countries to contribute towards relief efforts in East Africa. Osman said his government is encouraged by the AU’s support.

“The AU has a responsibility to put pressure on countries [on] the continent [to help] and for that reason we are very grateful for the security and now for the humanitarian [aid],” said Osman. “This is the best time to bring in al-Shabab remnants and to rehabilitate [them into] society.”

He adds that the recent withdrawal of the Islamic militants provides an opportunity for the government to get rid of “terrorists as well as ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those desperately in need.”

Osman acknowledged that the Transitional Federal Government is overwhelmed by the enormity of the disaster, and called for international intervention to help the administration.

“We are doing everything we can.  However, the magnitude or the extent of the dire need for food aid and for humanitarian assistance is far greater than what we can do ourselves. So that is why we have been calling [on] the international community to help us,” said Osman.

The United Nations says more than 12 million people across the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of food aid.