Somali militant group, Al-Shabab has accused the World Food Program (WFP) of distributing expired food and causing a public health hazard to Somalis. The group has also warned that any Somali who co-operates with the WFP would be treated as contributing to the destruction of the Somali economy.
The Islamist group has blocked food supply meant for over 35,000 displaced and destitute Somalis who rely on food aid from the WFP.
“Effective as of today, all of WFP’s operations inside Somalia are terminated and the organization has been completely banned,” the group said in a statement cited by Reuters.
In November 2009, Al-Shabaab set 11 conditions for aid groups to operate in the country, including paying a tax of at least $20,000 every six months. By January 2010, the WFP pulled out of large parts of southern Somalia because of threats from rebel groups, and similar threats have begun in Afgoye, west of the capital city Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab claim to be protecting the local agricultural industry- They accuse WFP of ruining local farming by forcing Somalis to rely on imports. The extremist also claimed that agricultural productivity has increased in areas they control. Trucks travelling from the capital Mogadishu to camps in Afgoye have been stopped by Al-Shabab militiamen.
While the claim that agricultural productivity has increased in Al-Shabab controlled areas remain unverifiable, there are growing concerns over the populace facing food shortages.
“The WFP is extremely concerned about the health of the displaced families who rely on humanitarian assistance reaching them. The people in Afgoye last received a general food distribution from WFP in November 2009, so we fear that they are going very hungry.
“We fear they are suffering even more because food assistance cannot reach them, and some of them may be forced to leave Afgoye as conditions in the camp deteriorate,” WFP representative, Peter Smerdon was quoted as saying.
The WFP insists that its role in Somalia is impartial and non-political, and it is determined to help the people of Somalia in need of assistance, regardless of who controls the areas in which they live, as long as it is safe for WFP staff to do so.
AL-Shabaab and allied militia Hezbal-Islam have been battling the government and its African Union peacekeepers, killing thousands of people and forced more that 1.5 million from their homes since the start of 2007.
The transitional government, backed by the United Nations and the United States, runs only parts of Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia is controlled by al-Shabaab.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Somali population has the world’s highest malnutrition levels, and nearly half of them need aid.