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Relief Groups Hope US Aid Will Again Reach Somalis


Relief Groups Hope US Aid Will Again Reach Somalis
Relief Groups Hope US Aid Will Again Reach Somalis
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Aid organizations say they are hopeful the United States will soon release at least $50-million in relief resources for Somalia that have been held back this year because of U.S. anti-terrorism laws. As our correspondent explains in this report from central Somalia, U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups are concerned that funding shortfalls this year could jeopardize the lives of more than three million Somalis.

Deaths of livestock force people to seek foreign food aid

On the first day of each month, rows of cooking oil and sacks of donated food stamped "USAID" are laid out for distribution to needy families in the community in Docal, a small dusty desert town in the South Mudug region of Somalia.

A long line of women quickly forms in front of the distribution center, patiently waiting for their names to be called out.

This day, Abdullahi Hassan is the aid worker in charge. He works for the Somali Development and Rehabilitation Organization, a local relief agency partnered with the U.N. World Food Program to deliver humanitarian good and services to people in the region.

Hassan hands a jug of cooking oil and a sack of sorghum to Asha Mohamed, a widow and a mother of nine children who recently moved to Docal after losing her herd of goats and camels to drought.

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Mohamed says her family's survival depended on livestock. When they all died, she says she had no choice but to move to a place where she could receive food aid.

Aid worker Hassan says since the beginning of the year, an increasing number of people like Asha Mohamed have been moving out of rural villages and into urban areas in search of food. But there is not enough supply to meet the demand.

Hassan says regardless of size, he can only give each family a month's ration of one 50-kilogram sack of food and three liters of cooking oil. He says on this day, 200 families in Docal is getting food, but they will have to share it with hundreds of other families whose names were not on the distribution list this month.

Years of drought and ongoing conflicts have left Somalia in the grip of one of the worst humanitarian crisis since the fall of the central government in 1991.

Galmudug State Planning Minister Omar Mohamud says Somalis do not understand why many of them are not getting help from the international community.

"There are so many villages that never get U.N. aid," said Omar Mohamud. "And people are in bad need. And in this time, with severe drought, the WFP [World Food Program] has decreased the amount they were distributing before. So, the people are complaining about the U.N."

The United Nations and non-governmental organizations working in Somalia say they are doing the best they can to alleviate the suffering.

UN, NGOs hampered by Washington's decision this year to withhold about $50 million in aid

But they say they are being hampered by Washington's decision this year to withhold about $50-million in aid shipments while the government looked for a solution that could deliver aid to needy areas without violating U.S. sanctions on an al-Qaida-linked militant group called al-Shabab.

The United States is the largest donor to Somalia, providing about 40 percent of the annual aid budget. Last year, USAID provided nearly $320 million to Somalia. But amid reports some aid money was being used to feed and fund al-Shabab members and their supporters, USAID donation in 2009 has been held at around $189 million.

Placed on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations last year, al-Shabab has been battling to overthrow the U.N.-backed-but-weak government in Mogadishu. Using Iraq-style political assassinations and suicide bombings, al-Shabab has vowed to turn the country into an ultra-conservative, virulently anti-West Islamic caliphate.

As much as 60 percent of the neediest people in southern and central Somalia are believed to be living in town and villages controlled by al-Shabab. USAID has been in trying to ensure that American aid programs could be carried in al-Shabab-held territories without breaking U.S. laws.

UNICEF Deputy Representative Hannan Suleiman says funding shortfalls have had an impact because American aid is more critical than ever to relief operations and programs in all areas of Somalia.

"What it has meant so far is that we have not been able to secure the supply pipelines that we need for the nutrition programs that will take us into next year," said Hannan Suleiman. "The U.S. funding also helps us address water issues as well as health issues. We are hopeful that this issue will be resolved. If the funding comes in the next couple of weeks, we will be fine."

The United States says it is al-Shabab, not government bureaucracy, that is holding up aid to the Somali people.

The State Department said Tuesday an agreement had been reached that will enable USAID to resume aid shipments to Somalia. But the agreement sets conditions on various USAID partners conducting aid programs in insurgent-held areas.