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Top Humanitarian Official Gravely Concerned About Somalia


-- The top humanitarian official for Somalia says he's "gravely concerned" about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country. Mark Bowden, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, says UN and ngo relief workers are at risk. Last Friday, two Somali nationals, working for ngos, were killed.

From Nairobi, Bowden spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the situation in Somalia.

"I'm very worried because we're moving, edging towards crisis…in food security terms. It's suffered three years of drought. Food prices (are) astronomically high in Somalia with a lot of pressure on the local population. And to top that, there's also a lot of instability leading to a very large displaced population. Now, with all that as the background, the humanitarian organizations…are being confronted with a rash of abductions and kidnappings and also killings of staff, which frankly at this time is an intolerable burden to have to cope with for the Somalia population, as much as those involved in providing aid," he says.

As a result, relief workers have little access to those in need.

It's not the first time humanitarian officials have painted such a bleak picture for Somalia, yet the situation continues to worsen. Asked whether he finds this frustrating, Bowden says, "Well, it is frustrating… It's also deeply worrying… Despite the best efforts of the community, and I know the Somali communities are trying very hard to provide support and protection, these people are being abducted. And we can see a mounting crisis."

But is the crisis similar to the situation in Somalia in the early 1990's? Bowden says, "It's a very different situation, but it's severe in a different way. We are at the moment two months or so away from preventing large-scale hunger. We are able to get food through in Somalia, but we are not able to provide the health support and other service support and delivery of non-food items needed at this stage. And just as importantly, we're not able to do the technical assessments that are required to provide the sort of prevention that's necessary."

Bowden says the release of abducted humanitarian workers would help relieve the situation, as well as armed groups ceasing their attacks on aid agencies and trucks.