Somalia presents the single biggest challenge for aid workers, with a drought and food crisis affecting swathes of east Africa adding to concerns over security, violence and accountability, aid group Oxfam said.
Limited access to civilians caught in the crossfire in Somalia and other conflict zones has forced Oxfam to rely more on local partner organisations, Oxfam GB’s humanitarian director Jane Cocking told Reuters in an interview.
“In terms of numbers of people, access to any form of social welfare or livelihood choices, and the apparent intractability of it (the conflict in Somalia), it is the biggest concern in humanitarian terms that we have globally,” Cocking said.
Oxfam says 3.6 million people, or half Somalia’s population, is in desperate need of aid, with over 1.3 million displaced inside the country and half a million in camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.
Both private and government donors, however, are wary of throwing money at a problem without guarantees it won’t end up in the hands of combatants like Al Shabaab rebels, who Washington says are al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.
“There are real challenges around accountability in a state as disorganised as Somalia, and unfortunately humanitarian donors are still reluctant to recognise that,” said Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfam GB’s east Africa director.
Oxfam GB is the British arm of Oxfam international.
In the fifth year of drought in east Africa, more than 23 million people face severe hunger and destitution in seven countries, Oxfam says.
“In Somalia, that is one in six children acutely malnourished. That is, in the UN’s terms, a crisis. But because it’s been a similarly awful picture for such a long time, the crisis warning bell no longer produces the fire brigade,” Smith-Lomas said.
He said Oxfam was buying livestock from farmers in Kenya at above the market price, slaughtering the animals, and distributing the meat as a crisis response, and that the coming rainy season could ease the strain.
“There are predictions of a good chance of more than average rains, which is good as long as the rains don’t come in deluges,” he said, noting that there had been some recent flooding in western Kenya.
The two Oxfam directors said the difficulty of sending staff into places like northern Sri Lanka and Somalia has forced a change in focus to supporting local groups.
In Somalia, scores of aid workers and journalists have been kidnapped, killed or otherwise targeted since central government collapsed in 1991.
Sri Lanka is under heavy pressure from the West to resettle more than 260 000 people being held in camps since the end of a war with Tamil Tiger separatists in May.
Cocking said ties forged with local aid groups after a 2004 tsunami meant Oxfam could provide aid remotely to civilians trapped by fierce fighting ahead of the Tigers’ surrender.
“Arguably that is also more effective it’s faster, it should be more culturally appropriate and it ought to be more cost-effective. So that’s the way we are going,” she said.
Pic: Somalia female insurgent