Urges ‘Unfettered’ Aid to Shabab-controlled Somalia

Posted August 4th, 2011 at 5:25 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on the al-Shabab militant group to allow aid groups “unfettered” access to bring food assistance to the more than a million people facing famine in the part of Somalia they control.

At a press conference Thursday, Clinton said this would allow aid groups to save as many lives as possible. She said the militant group has made it very challenging to bring food into the regions under their control, for instance kidnapping aid workers and imposing taxes on those bringing in food.

Clinton also announced the Vice President's wife, Jill Biden, will travel to Kenya in the coming days to assess the situation and determine what more the U.S. can do to help.

Also on the trip will be the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The news comes as the International Committee of the Red Cross said it hopes to more than double its Somalia budget so it can feed more people in areas controlled by militant group al-Shabab.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said this would bring the Red Cross Somalia budget to $155 million and make it the group's largest ongoing humanitarian operation.

Also Thursday, the head of World Food Program in Ethiopia said that country's emergency food stocks are almost gone, despite incoming aid. Abdou Dieng said Thursday a reserve set up by the Ethiopian government is almost empty.

Dieng also says the WFP is monitoring reports out of neighboring Eritrea suggesting food shortages there as well. The reports are hard to verify, and Eritrea's autocratic government has denied the drought is affecting supplies.

Separately, the African Union has postponed a donor conference for the drought from August 9 to August 25.

The Associated Press quotes a senior AU policy adviser saying the later date would allow heads of state to attend the conference, to be held in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

The United Nations says drought has left more than 12 million people across the Horn of Africa in need of food aid. The U.N. has appealed for $1.4 billion to help the victims.

On Wednesday, the U.N. declared a famine in three more regions of southern Somalia. It said famine conditions will likely spread to more areas and could last until December.

A U.S. aid official has estimated that drought and famine have killed 29,000 Somali children under the age of five in the past 90 days.

At a hearing in Washington Wednesday, U.S. officials and private experts accused the militant group al-Shabab of preventing people from fleeing the famine-stricken areas.