Somalia's insecurity makes aid risky

Somalia's security situation makes it harder to deliver aid to the country hit hard by famine, MPs heard Monday.
Tonnes of relief from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is off-loaded after landing in Mogadishu airport in Somalia on Monday. Aid delivery is difficult in the country because of armed groups who target for attack Western aid organizations. (Mohamed Sheikh Nor/The Associated Press)

Somalia's security situation makes it harder to deliver aid to the country hit hard by famine, MPs heard Monday.

Canadian International Development Agency officials gave the House foreign affairs committee an update on delivering aid to the country, which has seen tens of thousands of Somalis die and hundreds of thousands migrate to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti are seeing massive starvation due to East Africa's worst drought in 60 years. The UN estimates 12.4 million people in the region need assistance.

Questioned by MPs about the security situation in Somalia, Philip Baker, CIDA's regional director general for eastern Africa, agreed it's difficult to deliver aid in the country, where the government has lost control of some regions to armed factions.

"The security question makes it much more of a challenge to be deeply engaged as a development agency in Somalia, but when you look at the regional efforts that can be done and are underway, there's quite a bit," he said.

"It's an unstable region, it's a challenging region," but Canada is working on food security and nutrition projects in neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya, Baker said. 

Somalis harassed by armed groups

Compounding Somalia's problem is the al-Shabab extremist group, which in 2009 banned Western aid groups and is now reportedly trying to stop people from reaching Kenya, driving them to internal camps with little food assistance.

Aid groups have easier access to Mogadishu, the country's capital, than to more remote parts of Somalia.

Oxfam Canada head Robert Fox says his organization works through Somali non-governmental organizations and women's groups.

"[But] the reality is the conflict restricts severely their ability to get around the country and for the communities that they're serving to feel safe," he said.

"There's no question that armed groups are having a significant impact. We have reports of young men and boys who have been trying to flee with their families to seek refuge and seek water and food and armed groups have pulled people off buses or detained people who were walking, because they are enlisting them in armed actions," Fox added.

"There's also certainly situations where women and children are being intercepted, are being harassed, [and] in some cases they're being subjected to gender-based violence."

Baker said he's seen first-hand that the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is doing good work.

"The short-term immediate work is underway and very strong, and we had a high level of confidence in what we were seeing," he said.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda is preparing to divvy up Canada's pledged aid to international organizations working in the region, the CIDA officials said. Her spokesman later said the decision is imminent.

The UN has received 40 per cent of its requested $2.5 billion funding to deliver aid, Stephen Salewicz, CIDA's director of humanitarian assistance, told the committee. But the percentage was much higher last week until the UN revised its funding request, he said.

"Those requests, it's important to note, have been recently revised, so the Somalia numbers just about doubled in the last week or so."

(Mobile users: follow Kady O'Malley's live blog coverage of the committee hearing  here.)