News / Africa

Access to Al-Shabab-Dominated Somalia Difficult

Al-Shabab fighters on parade during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu (File Photo)
Al-Shabab fighters on parade during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu (File Photo)
Gabe Joselow

The United Nations says it needs to “scale up” relief efforts in two famine-stricken areas of Somalia.  But the regions are dominated by the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab, which has limited the work that international aid groups can do in its territory.  Our correspondent looks at how aid agencies are operating in such a hostile environment.

Al-Shabab hostile to foreign aid organizations

Definition of Famine:

The word famine is a term that is not used lightly by humanitarian organizations. The United Nations describes a crisis as a famine only when the following conditions are met:

  • Malnutrition rates exceed 30 percent
  • More than two people per 10,000 people are dying each day
  • Severe lack of food access for large population

Current Famine:

    Almost half of Somalia's population, 3.7 million people, are affected by the current crisis with malnutrition rates in southern Somalia the highest in the world, surpassing 50 per cent in some areas. The United Nations says it is likely that tens of thousands have already have died, the majority of those being children.

    The drought that has led to the current famine in parts of Somalia has also affected people in Kenya and Ethiopia.

    Previous Famines in the Horn of Africa:

  • Somalia 1991-1992
  • Ethiopia 1984-1985
  • Ethiopia 1974

Since al-Shabab took control of south-central Somalia a few years ago, they have had a hostile relationship with foreign aid organizations.

The militants have accused foreign workers of being spies, have kidnapped some, and even killed some others.  They have routinely diverted food and other supplies meant for starving Somalis into their own hands, leaving many foreign donors unwilling to send more aid.

So, what can aid agencies do to get access to vulnerable populations under such conditions?

The U.N. children's agency UNICEF has been operating in Somalia without interruption since 1972.  And the group recently scored a major victory, by conducting a successful airlift into the town of Baidoa, in Lower Shabelle - an al-Shabab stronghold hit hard by famine.

The shipment contained five tons of supplies, including clean water equipment, and food and medicine to treat malnutrition.

Such a large shipment could not have happened without the approval of al-Shabab.  UNICEF chief of communications for Africa services, Shantha Bloemen, said they had to work with the group as a matter of principle.

“So yes, there was dialogue with local authorities, and obviously they include members of al-Shabab," said Shantha Bloemen. "But the bottom line is that we succeeded in getting those supplies in.  Our staff were able to go to the airport and secure the materials and get it out to the people that need it.”

Ban on airlifts lifted

Al-Shabab recently lifted a ban on airlifts.  The move will allow organizations that have relied mainly on ground transportation to send more supplies more quickly, at a time when it is needed most.

UNICEF is focusing on treating acute malnutrition in children, which has increased to rates around 50 percent in some parts of the region.  But the agency has remained cautious, and cannot say that airlifts will continue unabated.

“I think we are just testing the waters as we go, and obviously we believe strongly that we have to do whatever we can to meet the kids' needs," said Bloemen. "So, we are looking at every avenue at the moment, at how we get more support in, obviously, without compromising our ability to operate.”

Once aid organizations like UNICEF get their materials on the ground, they rely on local, Somali partners to distribute food or medicine or other supplies.

Mohamed Omar works with the Peace and Environmental Development Concern Organization (PEDCO) in the Bakool region.

"Most local humanitarian aid agencies use local residents to operate," he said. "We tell al-Shabab this is what we want to do in a certain area.  If you contact them directly they will help you with the facilitation, but sometimes they warn you from receiving aid from certain aid organizations. There are some aid organization they do not want, like the U.N. Development Program, and others which were banned.”

He says the aid agencies use local residents.  They tell al-Shabab what they want to do, and where, and the group helps with facilitating the delivery.  But, sometimes they will also warn you about receiving aid from certain organizations, like the U.N. Development Program, and others that are banned.

While Omar was willing to speak about working with the militant group, other aid workers in the area would not discuss their relationship, fearing it could compromise their work.

International Crisis Group Somalia expert Rashid Abdi says al-Shabab's decision to allow aid does not represent an ideological shift.

“I think what has happened is that the situation has become so grave and so dire that al-Shabab had no other choice but to basically allow in aid agencies, simply because they had no means to provide sustenance for the people," said Abdi.

Abdi said al-Shabab has received a lot of pressure from clan leaders and local communities who have blamed the group for the food crisis.

But until a strong central government can regain control of south-central Somalia, aid groups will still have to go through al-Shabab.  And there is no guarantee they will not go back to hijacking supplies.

With 3.7 million people affected by the crisis, nearly half the Somali population, many organizations believe they have no choice but to risk working with al-Shabab.  

Somalia Famine

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs