UN Seeks Security Assurances to Help Starving Somalis

Posted July 19th, 2011 at 9:55 am (UTC-5)
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The United Nations refugee agency says it needs security guarantees from insurgents in Somalia before it can provide the level of aid needed in the drought-stricken country.

Spokesman Adrian Edwards told VOA Tuesday that the agency must have a “reasonable degree of safety” before increasing its efforts in Somalia.

Edwards said that currently, the agency must keep a “low profile” and work through partners to avoid being targeted by al-Shabab militants and other armed groups.

Earlier this month, al-Shabab said it welcomes the return of relief organizations, after barring them from strongholds in central and south Somalia more than a year ago.

Despite access problems, the refugee agency said Tuesday it has managed to distribute aid packages to some 90,000 people in the capital, Mogadishu, and towns in southwestern Somalia.

It also handed out non-food aid to about 126,000 people in the Gedo and Lower Juba regions.

A severe drought and food shortages have sparked a mass exodus of Somalis to crowded refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. Many are dying along the way or soon after arriving.

Some U.N. aid groups have resumed airlifts into the volatile country, but others have said they will resume operations in Somalia only if security conditions allow.

The country has been wracked with lawlessness and deadly violence for years. Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow the U.N.-backed Somali government and to set up a strict Islamic state.

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in six decades. U.N. officials have said more than 10 million people are in need of emergency food aid.