The World Food Program is welcoming Canada's decision to extend its naval mission protecting ships carrying humanitarian aid to Somalia for another month. The World Food Program says Canada's generous action will save many lives. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
Canada was scheduled to end its naval escorts for relief ships to Somalia this Saturday.
World Food Program Spokeswoman Emilia Casella tells VOA no other country has come forward to provide naval escorts, so Canada's decision to extend its mission by a month is very good news.
"We have had an 11th hour reprieve for the naval escorts for our food relief ships off the Coast of Somalia," she said. "And, what that means is that we can continue delivering life saving food to upwards of three million people in Somalia thanks to the Canadian Navy. They have now agreed to continue their escorts until the 23rd of October. And, hopefully that is going to allow us to find again another commitment from another navy to take over when they, indeed, ultimately, go back to port."
Last year, pirates seized three WFP relief ships operating off the coast of Somalia. There have been more than 60 attacks on shipping this year, but none have been against WFP vessels because they have had naval escorts.
Casella says the World Food Program has to bring more than 100,000 tons of food into Somalia until the end of this year to feed more than three million people.
"Ninety percent of the food that we deliver to Somalia comes by sea," she said. "And, in fact, recently we already had some suppliers who were canceling their commitments to deliver the food because they were afraid that when the Canadians stopped escorting on Saturday the 27th of September, they risked piracy."
A succession of Canadian, Dutch, Danish and French ships have been escorting WFP shipments without incident since last November. They have delivered a total of 136,500 metric tons of food, enough to feed 2.6 million people for three months.
The World Food Program says needs are even greater this year because war, drought, failed harvests and high food and fuel prices have made more people vulnerable.