Aid ban, insecurity "could lead to more deaths"

NAIROBI, 8 December 2011 (IRIN) - Officials are warning of an escalation in the humanitarian crisis in Somalia if the ban imposed by Al-Shabab insurgents, on 16 aid agencies is not reversed.
"If the current situation continues, many more people will die," a civil society source told IRIN on 8 December.
"A combination of factors is colluding to make matters worse for the displaced and drought victims: we have had an upsurge in explosions, which have killed over 40 people in the last two weeks; and the ban on 16 aid agencies and the Kenyan forces' entry into southern Somalia are making the delivery of aid very, very difficult."
The civil society source said Al-Shabab seemed to be under pressure and was using the population to blackmail the government and international community.
"They are basically using the suffering of the people as a weapon. They are trying to make it costly to go after them."
In November, Al-Shabab banned 16 aid organizations, including several UN agencies, from operating in areas under its control, accusing them of "illicit activities and misconduct". Al-Shabab controls most of southern Somalia.
Humanitarian activities in the parts of the country left by the banned aid agencies have been reduced to "almost nothing", the civil society source said, adding that critical services such as food, water, health and nutrition had been suspended.
The Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) entered southern Somalia in October to try to neutralize Al-Shabab, hampering humanitarian access to some parts of the region, most of which was drought-stricken. In addition, Mogadishu has been hit by a series of bombings and explosions suspected to be the work of Al-Shabab.
The UN has reclassified the regions of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle in southern Somalia from "famine/humanitarian catastrophe" to "humanitarian emergency", with 250,000 out of the previous 750,000 Somalis "still at risk of starvation".
Abdullahi Shirwa, head of Somalia's National Disaster Management Agency, told IRIN: "We are looking for ways to find other aid groups not banned who can take on the work of helping the population."
He said the Kenyan incursion, the insecurity and ban on aid agencies had "made people's lives even more difficult".
Shirwa said he was getting reports from border towns in the south that food prices had gone "through the roof, making them unaffordable and unavailable to the population".
He added: “We are asking both Muslim and non-Muslim agencies who can go there to do so. We are also going to ask the agencies that have been forced out to turn over whatever they have to those who can reach the needy."
Sowing fear
Abdisamad Mohamud Hassan, the Minister of the Interior and National Security, told IRIN that Al-Shabab was using the recent flurry of explosions "to create fear among the populations. They [explosions] did not cause so much damage but were meant to discourage people from returning to the city."
He said security forces had undermined Al-Shabab's attempts to carry out major operations "so they are now resorting to a bomb here and a bomb there", adding: “they are desperate and will do anything to get breathing room".
The agencies banned by Al-Shabab are: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, World Health Organization, UN Children's Fund, UN Population Fund, UN Office for Project Services, Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Concern, Norwegian Church Aid, Cooperazione Internazionale, Swedish African Welfare Alliance, German Agency For Technical Cooperation, Action Contre la Faim, Solidarity and Saacid.
Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Food Security, Refugees/IDPs,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]