As more heads of state publicly support the military action in Somalia, Oxfam called on international leaders to refocus on addressing the crippling famine in the country. The agency urged all parties involved in the conflict to ensure that civilians are protected from being caught in the crossfire and that the Somali people have freedom of movement to access vital services.
With the agencies that monitor famine and malnutrition in Somalia yesterday announcing some improvement in the situation, Oxfam said this was the time to accelerate the humanitarian response, rather than jeopardise small gains. New fighting is already disrupting the supply of aid to tens of thousands of people at a critical time in the crisis.
Senait Gebregziabher, Oxfam Country Director for Somalia, said: “When drought and famine made headline news, the international community responded generously with support. Now the conflict threatens to jeopardise the very relief efforts they’re funding. The international community must not give with one hand and then take with the other by ignoring the needs of Somali people who are struggling in the face of a famine.
“We should be celebrating one step forward, with less people at risk of starvation. Instead, we fear two steps back with yet more conflict. The international community should be putting its energy behind serious diplomacy, not more fighting.”
Oxfam said that in Lower and Middle Juba aid to 27,000 people remains suspended since the conflict escalated in South Somalia a month ago. An additional 58,000 have been badly affected as distributions of crucial seeds and tools during the planting season have been delayed. Further delays are expected in the coming weeks as the security situation is increasingly volatile.
Oxfam’s local partners in Somalia say that many people are preparing to flee to areas outside of towns and are concerned that conflict may lead to an increase in civilian casualties and a further reduction of aid delivery.
Ms Gebregziabher said: “While life-saving water is still being provided in most areas, we have been forced to suspend some work, such as the digging of new wells. Distributions of seeds, tools and cash to communities have been delayed, which are vital for a successful harvest in January. Insecurity is also preventing some farmers from working their fields during the current planting season.
“Somalis are already going through the most serious food crisis in decades, but the internationally backed incursion is causing even more suffering for ordinary people.”
Oxfam said that attempts to solve the crisis through military action are likely to lead to further suffering for civilians and further reduce access for aid agencies. Increased dialogue, diplomatic engagement and support for Somali-led peace initiatives are the best way to ease the crisis, the agency said.
Public health and new sanitation work is also suspended at a critical time when heavy rains and flooding increase the threat of disease in many parts of the region. The rains also slow down aid delivery on rural roads within Somalia.
For more information please contact Oxfam Australia media coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795.