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Top UN Aid Official says Somalia on Eve of Massive Humanitarian Crisis

A top UN humanitarian official says the situation in Somalia continues to deteriorate and warns conditions may soon be similar to those of the early 1990’s.

Philippe Lazzarini is the outgoing head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia. From New York, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about conditions in Somalia.

“It’s even difficult to find a word to qualify the humanitarian crisis. I believe we are on the eve of a massive, massive humanitarian catastrophe. The situation is rapidly deteriorating. One or two months ago we were talking about two million people in need of assistance and protection. This number has increased. There is an increase in insecurity all over the south-central region. You have an incredible number of people having fled Mogadishu. I would estimate 700 to 800,000 people fleeing the violence. But not anymore only fleeing the violence of Mogadishu, but also the lack of supply. This population is going through…a conflict, insecurity, destruction of economic activities and rural populations are going through a third consecutive drought. So, I would say if we take all these factors together, we are really on the eve of a situation, which will be similar to the one we had met at the beginning of the 90’s.” he says.

As for what can be done in the short term, Lazzarini says, “There is a tragedy going on in Somalia. There is a need for massive humanitarian intervention. But to do so, you need an environment which allows you… If you look at the humanitarian organizations for the time being, they have little access to the population for humanitarian delivery only because of the overall insecurity. So, you need to address at the same time, not only the humanitarian crisis, but also the security environment and definitely also the political process. Because without a real dialogue…we will never find an environment which would allow us access the population.”

In the meantime, he says, time is running out. “It’s running very, very, very fast. We are talking about this desperate situation today. In a few weeks time the situation worse…than it is now,” he says.

A thorough humanitarian response is hindered by a breakdown of society even on the grass roots level. “Let’s be extremely clear. We have to work with national counterparts. The problem is that some of the national counterparts, especially when it comes to Mogadishu, are also part now of the people in need of assistance or protection…. There is almost no civil society anymore in Mogadishu, especially in a place where 60 to 70 percent of the population has already left. So there is also within the humanitarian community a high degree of frustration. Action needs to be taken. Action also needs to be taken to put an end…to the absolutely incredible violence we are informed about,” he says.

Lazzarini says if nothing is done, it will only a matter of a few months before scenes similar to Somalia in the early 1990’s will be repeated. That situation prompted a massive international response to prevent further death and starvation.