UNICEF Resumes Airlifts Into South-Central Somalia

Posted July 13th, 2011 at 8:30 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

For the first time in two years, the United Nations has airlifted aid to a part of Somalia controlled by the militant group al-Shabab.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Children's Fund has told VOA that the agency flew five tons of aid into the town of Baidoa on Wednesday. She says the shipment included medicines and nutrition- and water-related supplies.

The aid is meant for severely malnourished Somali children suffering the effects of a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa.

UNICEF suspended air deliveries to areas controlled by al-Shabab in 2009 because of threats from the militants. The agency continued to deliver some aid by ground.

Last week, al-Shabab said it welcomed the return of humanitarian groups into the areas it controls.

Also Wednesday, the African Union said it is working with AU peacekeepers to increase security in Somalia to ensure that humanitarian assistance gets to Somalis who need it. An AU spokesman said the African Union is helping to secure both the seaport and the airport, making it possible to bring in the aid supplies.

He also said former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings will soon go to Somalia to assess the situation for the African Union.

Earlier Wednesday, the U.N. World Food Program said it may resume operations in southern Somalia if security conditions allow. The WFP halted its work in areas controlled by al-Shabab last year, citing threats and extortion demands.

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in six decades, and thousands of Somalis are fleeing to camps each week in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow the U.N.-backed Somali government and to set up a strict Islamic state.

The hardline Islamist group rules much of southern and central Somalia, while the government controls only parts of the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.