31 Aug 2011

Just 27 per cent of drought aid money going to Somalia

The Disasters Emergency Committee tells Channel 4 News that just over a quarter of money it has raised towards the Horn of Africa Appeal is going to Somalia, the epicentre of the drought crisis.

The head of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has told Channel 4 News that this is “the worst period in Somalia’s recent history” and that even when money and food arrives in the country “almost none” is actually getting to the people who need it.

Dr Unni Karkunakara told Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman: “Right now all of the aid that is being delivered is around the fringes of the problem.

“There’s a huge hole in the middle where aid is not getting to.”

At least 25 per cent of Somalia’s 7.5m population is believed to have been displaced in the last two months, with 2.85m needing food.

In July, the United Nations declared that the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia were officially in famine, and said tens of thousands may have already died.

Dr Karkunakara said that aid agencies which say the drought is affecting the Horn of Africa region – including bordering Kenya and Ethiopia, but without a specific emphasis on Somalia – are complicating efforts to get more aid to the latter, the country he says is most in need.

His comments came after Brendan Gormley, Chief Executive of Britain’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), told Channel 4 News it had raised £57m pounds for the Horn of Africa Appeal in less than eight weeks, but that only 27 per cent of the money will be allocated to Somalia with over 70 per cent going to Kenya and Ethiopia.

Mr Gormley explained the money is bumped up by the British Government: “The 27 per cent, you could interpret that because DFID (The Department for International Development) might have given them more money earmarked for Somalia, so they’re able to use more of the DEC money, helping people in Kenya… the 400,000 in the refugee camp in Dadaab.

“It’s intelligent that we let the people on the frontline make these decisions.”

Asked if aid agencies are misrepresenting the drought crisis by referring to it in regional terms, Dr Karkunakara said: “Perhaps. I think one of the big concerns that I have is [the] characterisation of the crisis as a famine that affects the whole region.

“In Kenya and Ethiopia, of course there are pockets of hunger and there are people who are going without food, but they have better coping mechanisms and strategies in place than what the Somalis have at the moment.

“So my worry is that if we don’t [characterise] the crisis in a correct and informed way the money that is being raised will be spent in areas probably not as affected as south and central Somalia.”

He added that there was also a significant issue in that some western aid agencies, including the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Care, are banned from operating in parts of the country.

“That is a problem of years of politicisation of aid where certain agencies coming from certain countries are considered to be part of the ‘problem’ by certain factions in Somalia,” he said, adding that “There is a long history of politicisation of aid in Somalia and this drought has tipped the Somali people over the edge.”

The World Food Programme told Channel 4 News that they do operate in northern and central Somalia, and also in Mogadishu – but currently don’t operate in southern districts where they don’t have access.

Al-Shabaab, which controls most of the famine zone, is a banned terrorist organisation in the United States, and it was deemed unlawful for western organisations to provide aid to them.

When the food does arrive, Dr Karkunakara said, different political factions in Somalia have hindered distribution efforts.

“Food is being shipped to Mogadishu and other ports in Somalia [but] there is a real problem in getting the food from [those] ports to the people who actually need it…even in Mogadishu,” he said.

“In the camps there I spoke to a woman who had walked for five days [to get there] and she hadn’t received food. There was an attack on a food convoy by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) themselves, by TFG soldiers… the African Union is giving them the protection.”