Somalia is the world’s most worrying humanitarian crisis because of the scale of the needs there and limited scope for relief due to insecurity, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
The ICRC has been present in the Horn of Africa nation since 1982, but has had to work to a large extent “under a remote control mechanism”, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said.
Anarchy and chaos in Somalia force the ICRC to run its operation there from neighbouring Kenya, with close contacts to its local Red Crescent affiliate and other aid organisations.
“If I had to choose one context which I’m mostly worried about in humanitarian terms but also worried about (in terms of) the limited possibilities for humanitarians to do their job — it’s clearly Somalia,” Kellenberger told a news conference.
Somalia has been deprived of an effective central government and mired in violence since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
More than 40% of the population — 3.4 million people — require humanitarian assistance, including 1.4 million uprooted by a three-year insurgency waged by Islamist rebels.
Despite the acute needs, aid agencies have been forced to cut back operations after threats by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels which control much of Mogadishu and large parts of central and southern Somalia.
The ICRC presented its annual report yesterday, using it to highlight the range of problems caused by protracted conflicts from short-term needs such as food, water and shelter to long-term issues such as a deterioration of health services.
Kellenberger saw no improvement in the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan where suicide bombers launched a pre-dawn attack on Wednesday on one of the biggest NATO military bases there, killing an American contractor.
“We do not have a feeling it would be responsible to plan for a decrease of our activities,” said the softly spoken Swiss diplomat.
The neutral Swiss-based agency has been present in Afghanistan since 1987 where it is the only main humanitarian player in Taliban-controlled areas, Kellenberger said.
The ICRC spent $977 million last year on relief projects including those in Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan which consumed a third of the ICRC’s budget.
Globally it operated water, sanitation and construction projects that helped 14.2 million people and provided medical supplies to hospitals and clinics treating 5.6 million people.
Last year it visited 1890 places of detention holding more than 479 000 detainees in 74 countries.
Despite the global economic slowdown, Kellenberger said the organisation, widely known as the Red Cross, faced no difficulties raising money to fund its activities.
“In spite of a budget which is on average about 30 percent higher on a yearly basis compared to the 1990s we do not have a problem of financial support,” he said.