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UN: Urgent Aid Needed to Avert Anarchy, Starvation in Somalia


The United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Christian Balslev-Olesen, says the devastated nation's humanitarian crisis is undermining its frail transitional government.

Balslev-Olesen says humanitarian help from the international community is needed immediately to prevent famine caused by the most severe drought in over a decade. Otherwise, he says, Somalia's first government in 15 years will fail.

The U.N. envoy says 25 percent of Somalia's population is dependent on international aid and as many as 10,000 people a month will die if the crisis is not addressed at once. Drought has already claimed 50 percent of Somalia's livestock and Balslev-Olesen predicts the figure could reach 80 percent.

Many international donors are reluctant to become involved in Somalia, which fell into anarchy in the early nineties. But Balslev-Olesen says important lessons have been learned since then and aid workers are already on the ground.

"We have an opportunity now, a political process with parliament, with government, weak as it is, but still the first opportunity for 15 years where you actually have a government trying to take control, to provide law and order, to build a police [force] and have [a] national security plan," he said. "This is really going to be a missed opportunity if the international community is not coming forward very strongly to assist the political process as well as the humanitarian situation. If we cannot deliver on the humanitarian situation, it is going to backfire on the political process. If the political process is not going forward, it is going to backfire to our ability to have access to the vulnerable communities."

Balslev-Olesen says about 1,000 national and international relief workers are operating in Somalia under extremely difficult circumstances.

"On a daily basis we have threats; we have piracy; we have abductions; we have roadblocks," he added. "Some people would say [it is] the most difficult humanitarian environment globally for the time being."

The UN humanitarian team is visiting key capitals before launching a formal appeal for more than $325 million Friday.