- Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have managed to close all but military sea traffic around the Horn of Africa. Food aid to the millions of Somalis in need no longer can land in Somalia's many ports. More expensive overland truck envoys now replace seagoing vessels.
Facing a plague of piracy off the Horn of Africa that has closed its usual supply lines by sea, the UN's World Food programme (WFP) today announced the arrival in southern Somalia of its first overland truck convoy carrying food aid in almost five years. The new overland routes will give the UN agency significantly increased costs.
"This is a great achievement, but sadly it was forced on us by the pirates who have attacked our chartered ships and other vessels this year," WFP Somalia Country Director Zlatan Milisic said of the 14 trucks that reached the Bakol region yesterday after an arduous 1,200-kilometre drive from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, passing through 25 militia checkpoints in Somalia.
"It is 25-30 percent cheaper to bring our food aid in by sea and boats can carry much more, but we have had to resort to this land route because ship-owners feel it is too risky to sail to the south," he added. The country has been torn by factional fighting ever since the collapse of President Muhammad Siad Barre's regime in 1991.
WFP distributed some of the food to 720 internally displaced people and returnees on the edge of Wajid town within hours of the convoy's arrival. Three more trucks, which were delayed by breakdowns, are expected to arrive in Wajid within days. The convoy of WFP-contracted trucks was loaded with 500 tonnes of food.
"We are having to use land convoys just when the humanitarian situation in southern Somalia is deteriorating," Mr Milisic said. "It could not happen at a worse time; the current rains in the south are failing and there will be severe food shortages, so WFP must rapidly increase deliveries to the south, and that will be very difficult."
Out of the more than 1 million people in Somalia that WFP aims to reach with food aid in 2005, 640,000 people are in the chronically unstable south. Most of the remaining live in the stable, self-declared republic of Somaliland, where ports and maritime traffic is safe. In a worst-case scenario, WFP would need 50,000 tons of food aid for the hungry in the south for the next six months, the UN agency holds.
WFP's food aid stocks in Somalia were said to be at "an all-time low because of the spate of ship hijackings," including the seizure this year of two WFP-chartered vessels, one of which was held for three months. Ship owners are now demanding armed escorts. In November, even a luxury cruise ship was attacked by Somali pirates, but managed to escape.
Waters off southern Somalia are considered among the world's most dangerous. Somalia's transitional federal government signed a two-year contract in November worth more than US$ 50 million with New York-based Topcat Marine Security to take action against the pirates. The transition government itself does not control much of Somalia and has no marine troops or coastguard services.
As well as using the route from Kenya to southern Somalia for the first time since February 2001, WFP says it is now planning to bring in food aid overland from Djibouti into northern Somalia. This is despite the safety of harbours in Somaliland and local authorities have questioned this cost increasing decision by the WFP.
The new way of transporting food aid to Somalia is dramatically increasing the UN agency's costs. "We urgently need more funding, given the increasing food needs and rising transport costs, as well as better access to the affected communities," Mr Milisic said today. The WFP operation was said to have a shortfall of US$ 17 million, or 24 percent of the total, corresponding to the increased transport costs.
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