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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora