- A recent spate of ship hijackings off the coast of Somalia is restricting delivery of urgently needed food aid, posing a serious threat to the health of 640,000 people in the drought-stricken and war-torn south of Somalia, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.
"The worsening humanitarian situation in southern Somalia is of deep concern to us and to our UN and NGO partners, especially with insecurity on the high seas hampering relief efforts," WFP Country Director Zlatan Milisic said. "We may have to step up our deliveries of food aid, which will be extremely difficult under present circumstances."
The southern Somali coastline is one of the most dangerous in the world. In recent months, WFP's operations have been sabotaged by the hijackings of two vessels carrying relief food. Ship owners are now demanding armed escorts to travel in these waters.
"Given the insecurity off the coast, we are exploring alternative transport routes, including overland from Kenya and via Djibouti, to reach those in desperate need of food assistance. But these other routes raise similar logistical and security challenges," Mr Milisic said.
WFP is also concerned about the lack of access for UN relief flights to several airstrips in the south of Somalia, which has been torn by factional fighting and lacking a functioning central government for the past 14 years.
Malnutrition rates in southern Somalia are very high, reaching 20 percent in some areas. Drought is a major threat to Somalis living away from rivers in Lower and Middle Juba and Gedo, where poor and patchy rainfall during the second rainy season in October and November are compounding an already desperate situation after the first rains failed earlier in the year.
"Pastoralists and their livestock are already on the move in search of water and pasture. If the rains do not pick up in the coming weeks, there will be a food shortage and hunger crisis at the end of the year in many districts of the south that will put lives at risk," Mr Milisic warned. "And all this is on top of families being torn apart by civil war."
Despite the hijackings, WFP's operations have continued, with 1,555 metric tonnes of food reaching nearly 150,000 people in Jilib and Buale districts in the past two weeks, and a further 830 tonnes set to be distributed to 78,000 beneficiaries in Sakow district.
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