The World Food Programme has halted its food shipments to Somalia in a high-stakes attempt to press local warlords to rein in violence that has killed two of its employees this month.
By Barney Jopson in Nairobi
Peter Goossens, Somalia country director of the United Nations agency, said the WFP would distribute the food left in its Somali warehouses but he warned that it would run out by early March if it was not replenished by fresh shipments.
He said the WFP would only reopen its “pipeline” – a reference to the sea and land routes through which it ships food from the Kenyan port of Mombassa – when it had received security guarantees from local administrations, warlords and armed militias that control the areas where it operates.
It is a high-risk move for the agency because the difficulty of pacifying highly fragmented armed groups is one reason why Somalia has become a lawless and destitute failed state since its central government collapsed in 1991.
“We will distribute what is in the country and what is on the way. That is it,” Mr Goossens told a news conference in Nairobi on Thursday. “We cannot continue to function as we did and basically have our staff members being killed.”
The agency could find itself at the centre of a political storm if it denied food aid to the 2.5m Somalis who depend on it and Mr Goossens stressed that it hoped it would not have to do so.
“We clearly don’t do this very lightly,” he said. “We wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t really necessary.”
Two Somali nationals working for the agency were killed by gunmen in separate attacks earlier this month as one monitored a feeding session at a school and the other supervised the distribution of food to a refugee camp. Four WFP employees and five contract staff were killed last year.
Nothing was stolen in this year’s attacks, leading the WFP to believe its employees were being targeted for political or ideological reasons. Humanitarian workers have been attacked repeatedly during a two-year-old Islamist insurgency against an unpopular transitional government and its Ethiopian military backers, who are now pulling out of the country.
Confronted by the threat of piracy in the waters around Somalia, the UN agency has had to secure escorts from foreign navies to enable its aid shipments to reach the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
On land, Mr Goossens acknowledged that it was seeking security guarantees from dozens of individuals and groups but said it would not need assurances from all of them to reopen its pipeline.
“These are not specific, very well-structured groups,” he said. “The problem comes from very localised groups. What you can’t do in Somalia is make centralised agreements. You have to go to micro areas.”