In Somalia, the statistics tell the tale of the humanitarian crisis. The United Nations says one and a half million people need humanitarian assistance and protection, 800-thousand people have been displaced and 34-hundred civilians have been wounded since January.
The situation has prompted the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia to write an open letter to the warring parties and international community. From Nairobi, Christian Balslev-Olesen spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the reasons for the letter.
“First of all because of the desperate situation in and around Mogadishu. For the past four or five days, we have seen an additional 90,000 people, desperate, leaving Mogadishu. This is a crisis that we have not seen for quite some time. And therefore, we are trying our best to reach out to all Somalis, all authorities, all parties involved in the present fighting in Mogadishu,” he says.
Balslev-Olesen says that many people are being “caught in the crossfire, with over 100 people admitted to hospitals for weapons-related injuries in just two days.”
He adds, “There seems to be an operation going on inside Mogadishu in specific districts. That means people have been trying to get away from certain parts of Mogadishu at a point in time where markets seem to be closing down, where it’s difficult to get access to your basic food and supply.”
However, people fleeing the capital are heading to areas already overcrowded with displaced people, who themselves are badly in need of aid. Humanitarian agencies have been unable to reach many of them.
“That’s the reason why we are crying out to all parties in Mogadishu to make sure that they do protect civilian populations. That they make sure there is access for the humanitarian aid to these people,” the UN official says.
However, aid agencies face numerous obstacles reaching those in need. Balslev-Olesen says, “We have an extreme security situation…in many parts of Somalia with checkpoints, with harassments, with taxations and so on. So it’s difficult…simply to reach out to the people.”
It is not the first time an appeal has been made to the warring parties to respect and protect civilians and aid workers, yet the security problems continue. So, why make another appeal? Balslev-Olesen says, “This is the only tool that we do have…each and every Somali has a very difficult situation…coping mechanisms in Somalia, in the central and southern part of the country, are not any longer there to supply the basic…protection for people. What do we have left?”
As for Somalia’s food security crisis, he says, “We have malnutrition at a level you will not find in any other places in the world, including Darfur.”