- For the first time in a decade, a UN food aid shipment this weekend docked in the reopened port of Mogadishu, significantly improving the distribution of humanitarian aid in drought and war plagued Somalia. Mogadishu's radical Islamist Courts had reopened the country's largest port facilities in August.
Aiming to alleviate suffering caused by drought, a ship chartered by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) on Sunday docked in Mogadishu – the agency's first delivery to the Somali capital's port in more than a decade. The 'MV Redline' is loaded with 3,300 tonnes of WFP food, which is to be trucked to the drought stricken regions of Bay and Bakool in the south.
Rival claims by competing warlords closed Mogadishu port in February 1995. In addition, an increasing problem of piracy along the Somali coast made shipping to the war-ravaged capital impossible.
Only the relative peace and order imposed by the radical Union of Islamic Courts, which seized the capital in June, has made the Mogadishu region safer. The Islamists declared the Mogadishu port reopened in August and have taken armed control over port facilities. Pirates, looters and others threatening shipping services are dealt with according to harsh Islamic laws.
While the UN and Western nations have been sceptical towards the brutal policies of Mogadishu's ruling Islamists, the reopening of the city's port has nevertheless been welcomed. “Mogadishu is once again a key entry point for getting food stocks into the country. The reopening of the port makes it easier for us to reach more than one million people across the country who rely on our assistance," stated Leo van der Velden of WFP's Somalia office.
Mr van der Velden added that using the country's largest port should reduce unloading times and help ease logistical problems that have complicated WFP's supply lines into Somalia over the past 10 years.
With Mogadishu closed to shipping, ships chartered by humanitarian agencies and organisations had to unload their cargo at beach ports near the capital and at the port of Merka to the south. Cranes unloaded the food commodities from ships onto smaller barges, which then ferried them to the shallows, where porters waited to wade ashore with the bags.
Mr Van den Velden further said that the WFP office now was discussing with Mogadishu's newly appointed port management the use of WFP food in return for work to clean up the facility after years of disuse.
The Mogadishu Islamists, who are not in control of any naval forces, however have not been able to stop piracy off the Somali coast, although incidents have become fewer. A spate of pirate attacks in Somali waters in 2005 forced WFP to bring food aid to the drought-stricken south by road because shipping companies were unwilling to risk voyages to Somalia. Two WFP-chartered ships were seized by pirates in 2005 and one escaped a pirate attack in March 2006.
Somalia still is in desperate need of food aid, following years of drought and warfare. Although the recent harvest has provided a respite for some people in the country, many families were "still struggling to recover from last year's devastating drought," according to WFP, which estimated that 1.4 million people in North, central or southern Somalia face either an acute food and livelihood security crisis or humanitarian emergency until at least the end of December 2006.
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