Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Antiterror Laws Could Impede US Aid for Somalia Famine Victims

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Antiterror Laws Could Impede US Aid for Somalia Famine Victims

Article excerpt

Al Shabab, an Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda, controls famine-stricken regions in Somalia. The US is looking for ways to help starving Somalis while not breaking antiterror laws.

Urgent discussions are being held in Washington to find ways to provide food to starving Somalis while not breaking strict antiterror laws barring aid to areas held by Islamists with ties to Al Qaeda.

Under rules from the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), no US government money may be spent on projects if there is any risk that it will "materially benefit" a listed terror organization.

That includes Al Shabab, an insurgent group linked to Al Qaeda that has taken control of most of southern Somalia, the area worst hit by the current Horn of Africa drought.

Since the Treasury rules came into force in 2009, US aid to Somalia - once the largest share of all world donors - has dropped by 88 percent, from $237 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2011. Washington argues that this is because aid cannot be delivered in places that are unsafe for agencies' staffs, or where it might be looted by the Islamists.

Yet funding to Somalia from all other nations, channeled through local partners and the few UN agencies still on the ground, in fact rose between 2008 and 2010, according to UN figures.

"Avoiding aid diversion is important, but the US's overzealous approach led to a damaging collapse in US humanitarian support to Somalia," says Jeremy Konyndyk, policy director with Mercy Corps in the US. "While poor access limited the humanitarian community's ability to address needs in the south, the broader collapse in US humanitarian support to the whole of Somalia since 2009 has undermined humanitarian response and preparedness across the entire country."

The OFAC rules came into force after reports that Al Shabab was hijacking food, taxing aid convoys thousands of dollars, and threatening foreign staff. Dozens of other organizations pulled out of southern Somalia at the same time. …

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