Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Somali Islamists Ban Aid Groups, Renewing Famine Concerns

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Somali Islamists Ban Aid Groups, Renewing Famine Concerns

Article excerpt

Somalia's Islamist insurgency banned Western aid agencies from its territory, raising concerns that famine could return to parts of the northeast African nation.

A little over a week ago, aid workers in Somalia were cautiously celebrating news that half of the areas previously classified as most at risk had improved and were no longer "in famine."

But by Wednesday there were several warnings that those hard-won gains were under threat from renewed conflict and the decision by Somalia's Islamist insurgency to ban most Western aid agencies from its territory. The developments have aid workers warning that famine may return in places.

Al Shabab, which is linked to Al Qaeda, said this week that 16 organizations, including most UN bodies, must leave because they were "fostering secularism" and were "amplifying the refugee crisis."

They were "financing, aiding, and abetting subversive groups seeking to destroy the basic tenets of Islamic penal system" and "undermining the livelihoods and cultural values of the population," the statement continued.

It even claimed that agencies - all Western - were making Somalia's refugee situation worse by "failing to implement durable solutions."

The banned agencies included UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Norwegian Church Aid, the Danish Refugee Council Concern, and others from Sweden, Italy, Germany, and France.

The move immediately shut down operations in Baidoa and Wajid, two large towns in the country's center. The length of the ban was not made clear.

Valerie Amos, the UN's humanitarian affairs coordinator, denied Shabab's claims.

"Humanitarian organizations working in Somalia remain strictly neutral, and their only task is to save lives," she said.

"Any disruption to ongoing humanitarian efforts threatens to undermine the fragile progress made this year, and could bring back famine conditions in several areas."

The UN's humanitarian coordination office later said that fresh fighting meant that almost a quarter of the people who received food hand-outs during October might miss them in November. …

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