As more information about East Africa’s famine reaches Western audiences, the situation looks increasingly grim – but aid doesn’t seem to be keeping pace with the publicity. What challenges do humanitarian organizations face?
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1. Al Shabab
Al Shabab militants say it is better to starve than to accept aid from the West. With their threats and attacks, Al Shabab may be intentionally keeping Somalis out of reach of Western aid, or killing them for attempting to escape the famine, the Associated Press reports.
The United Nations World Food Programme says there are 2.2. million people in need of aid who are out of reach in militant-controlled southern Somalia.
Al Shabab initially said it would allow all aid groups access to the country in order to provide aid, then rescinded permission to many of the groups, including UN agencies, the Monitor reported Wednesday. To get around the restrictions, the UN has been requesting additional help from Arab leaders — Al Shabab has been more permissive to aid from Islamic countries.
Organizations also have to act cautiously to be sure that they don’t run afoul of U.S. and British anti-terror laws, which are meant to prevent humanitarian funds from ending up in the hands of militant groups such as Al Shabab.
2. Fighting in Mogadishu
African Union peacekeepers launched a preemptive attack on Al Shabab militants in Mogadishu today to prevent them from attacking aid groups as they begin arriving. Nineteen peacekeepers were wounded in the fighting and were evacuated to Nairobi, according to the AP. Six people died.
"AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) fully understands the need to restrain military operations while the aid agencies mount their humanitarian campaign. However, we are here to maintain stability in Mogadishu, and if we perceive a threat from the extremist insurgents, then it is our duty to protect and defend the most vulnerable from this threat," said Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, an AMISOM spokesman.
3. Not enough funds
The UN refugee agency increased its funding request on Thursday from $136.3 million, saying it now needs $144.9 million to respond adequately. It has so far received $59 million. The UN-backed World Food Programme says it has received $250 million in pledges from donor countries, but still needs $252 million.
4. No functioning government
Somalia has been torn apart by a two-decade civil war and the fighting has left the country’s infrastructure in shambles. Even if aid agencies get approval to operate, they have to figure out how to deliver food and other supplies to remote areas of the country that lack usable roads — some because of disrepair and some because of landmines. The landing strips necessary for airlifting supplies into the country are also in shambles.
Without a functioning government, there’s no one the aid groups can turn to for help, either. African Union peacekeepers are the most reliable presence in the country.
This article, "Four reasons help is slow to reach Somalia's famine victims," first appeared on CSMonitor.com.
© 2012 Christian Science Monitor