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Somali famine response 'ineffective'

2011-09-09 13:47

Addis Ababa - Aid trickling in to famine-stricken Somalia is ineffective and donors should focus on propping up the war-shattered country's capacity to handle crisis, a Somali official said on Thursday.

Famine has spread to six out of eight regions in southern Somalia, with 750 000 people facing imminent starvation, the United Nations says, and hundreds of Somalis are dying each day despite a ramping up of aid relief.

"It's [aid] not really as effective as we expected. The reason is we need institutional capacity for us to be able to manage and co-ordinate the aid," Deputy Finance Minister Ali Dirir Farah told Reuters in Addis Ababa.

"Unfortunately it seems more emphasis has been given to support local and international NGOs," he added, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting discussing aid for fragile states.

Somalia is among the world's most corrupt nations and in past weeks has been dogged by allegations that food aid intended for famine victims was being stolen and sold for a profit.

The rest of southern Somalia is expected to slide into famine by the end of the year, the UN says.

The lawless country has been without an effective central government since the dictator Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, after which first warlords then Islamist insurgents stepped into the power vacuum.

Large swathes of the Horn of Africa nation remain under the control of Islamist rebels who are fighting to overthrow the UN -backed government and have severely restricted relief efforts in their territories.

"We would like aid to be guided by exactly what is needed in the country, not from what donors and experts far away are thinking," Farah said of the response to the famine.

Joint security committee


Somalia is at the epicentre of a drought in the Horn of Africa region which is affecting over 13 million people.

The government blames the famine on the al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels, who seek to impose a strict version of sharia law on the nation and are bent on striking the region's main economies.

At a regional conference in neighbouring Kenya, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said the militants had systematically looted grain stores, extorted food and taxes from farmers and prevented starving people from reaching help.

"As a region, we cannot afford the luxury of allowing al-Qaeda an opportunity to establish a firm presence in the Horn," Ali told the conference.

"We should consider establishing a joint security committee, within the auspices of the [regional] Intergovernmental Authority on Development [bloc]."

While a small harvest is expected in January, following rains in October, the situation is unlikely to improve signicantly until the main harvest of 2012 in August.

Aid agencies say they are only able to get food aid to 1 million of those in need because the al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group, al Shabaab, which controls much of the south, will not allow food shipments in.

Instead, agencies are using food and cash vouchers which hungry families can exchange for commodities in local markets.

Famine exists where at least 20% of households cannot access enough food, over 30% are acutely malnourished and two people per 10 000 die every day, according to the UN.