The top United Nations Official in Somalia says that country is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in over a decade. He says aid workers are operating in a climate of suspicion and are subjected to enormous pressure and harassment from all parties. Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva.
U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, says Somalia is reeling from a combination of natural and man-made disasters. He says a major drought and severe floods have rendered many people homeless and caused extensive crop loss.
In April, he says Somalia was confronted with its worst civil war in 10 years. Fierce fighting between transitional government forces and rebel groups caused a mass exodus from the capital Mogadishu.
He says more than three quarters of a million people are now displaced. Most have fled to overcrowded areas south of the capital.
"Many people do not feel at home in Mogadishu," said Laroche. "Many of the mothers and fathers cannot feed their kids anymore. The enrollment rate in schools has dropped by 50 percent in Mogadishu. In the last month, there were 25,000 people leaving Mogadishu. Every day we now have 1,000 people leaving Mogadishu."
Laroche says one and one half million people throughout the country need humanitarian assistance.
He says all these problems are compounded by a major political crisis. He notes increased tension between the President and Vice President of Somalia's transitional government is adding fuel to the competing demands of clan leaders, warlords, rebel groups and militia.
And squeezed in-between this dangerous mix he says are the humanitarian aid workers who are viewed with suspicion by all sides.
"The harassment that health workers have been subject of, including myself, is on the increase-has been on the increase since the IDPs [internally displaced people] have been fleeing Mogadishu," said Laroche.
"The fact that we started providing assistance to the IDP's. The government is always saying you are feeding the terrorists, is the term they are employing, using, you are feeding the terrorists. The reason they say said is precisely because it goes against their own interests," he added.
U.N. Coordinator Laroche says it is extremely difficult to deliver aid to the displaced. He notes trucks carrying relief supplies to people in south and central Somalia have to pass more than 200 different roadblocks. At each one of these, he says drivers are forced to pay between $30 and $400 to the guards on duty.
Over the past few months, he says targeted assassinations, roadside bombs and suicide bombers have been used with increasing frequency. Until now, he says these tactics never existed, making Somalia even more dangerous than before.