Humanitarian situation in Somalia: Monthly analysis, Dec 2006/Jan 2007

Report
from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 31 Dec 2006
This report was written in cooperation with the UN Agencies in Somalia

HIGHLIGHTS

Due to a combination of flooding and conflict, the humanitarian situation in south/central Somalia suffered an immediate deterioration in the last three months. At the same time, access to populations in need became increasingly difficult due to logistical and security constraints. At the peak of the fighting between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the TFG's closure of Somalia's border on 24 December effectively brought the flood response, and other life-saving activities, to a halt. An exemption for humanitarian flights was made on 29 December, but access was once again obstructed in early January 2007 by the Government of Kenya's decision to close its border.

Access, particularly to the Jubas, thus remained limited throughout January 2007, compounded by ongoing military air operations by the TFG/Ethiopian forces (and two US air strikes). Insecurity caused by militia and inter-clan conflict, and harassment and arbitrary detention of aid workers by Ethiopian forces have also deterred the resumption of activities. On 7 February provincial and district officials at the border received instructions from the Kenyan central government to allow humanitarian cross-border movement. Immediately trucks started to load, and on 9 February some supplies started to cross. It is hoped that the directive will break the impasse over the Kenyan border issue. Meanwhile, Galkayo (Mudug region), which for the past eleven months has been closed to UN international staff due to insecurity is now open. In Mogadishu, several humanitarian missions took place in January and logistical preparations are underway to support scaled-up engagement and presence by the UN.

According to the findings of the FAO/FSAU-lead 2006/7 post-Deyr survey, around 1 million Somalis are now in need of assistance and protection in the next six months (including 400,000 IDPs), as compared to the 1.8 million identified in August 2006. The situation has improved in all regions except riverine areas of the Juba and the Shabelle rivers (riverine areas of Lower and Middle Juba, Gedo and Hiran) which are in a state of Humanitarian Emergency. Agro-pastoral and pastoral areas of Hiran, Bay and Bakool (except for some pockets) are now out of Acute Food and Livelihood Crisis, as is the north of Somalia.

Despite the overall improvement, Somalia remains chronically food insecure, with Gedo and most of the Juba regions, as well and IDPs extremely vulnerable. The nutrition situation also remains of concern. The post-drought nutrition crisis persists and the impact of the recent floods is just emerging, with increased admissions in feeding programmes in riverine areas. Critical levels of malnutrition persist in Gedo, Middle and Lower Juba, and parts of Bay, Bakool, and Hiran regions.

The current humanitarian situation calls for robust re-engagement to reach populations in need, despite the formidable security challenges. It is generally recognized that it is now essential to provide an enabling environment for the delivery of basic social services through the establishment of some degree of governance, law and order. This opportunity, however, will be short-lived. The defeat of the ICU has created a power vacuum in South/Central Somalia, which could lead to renewed chaos and return to intra- inter-clan conflict. The re-emergence of warlords also raises serious concerns about the need to ensure principled humanitarian action and a "do no harm" approach. The humanitarian community in Somalia is now developing a set of 'Joint Operating Principles' that aim to promote behaviours in line with basic humanitarian principles to avoid fuelling the re-establishment of the system of coercion and violence perpetrated in the past by 'gatekeepers'.

Recognizing the need for a timely and prioritized approach to humanitarian and early recovery needs, the UN, in consultation with its partners has also developed a plan to support stabilization in Somalia, including provision of basic social services, assistance to the IDPs and livelihood recovery activities. This plan is based on and complementary to the activities and priorities envisaged in the Somalia CAP 2007, given that the strategic objectives of the CAP remain relevant. In view of the recent developments, the 2007 Somalia CAP is now being revised. The overall strategic objectives and the geographical focus of the CAP will not change. However, in view of the marked improvements in overall food security, it is anticipated that a few specific sectors will undergo a review of response plans and activities. The revision of the CAP will also reflect the new access opportunities that have emerged in the country, particularly in Galkayo and Mogadishu.

ACCESS and SECURITY

The access situation in South/Central Somalia deteriorated in December and January, due to a variety of factors related to flooding and conflict. Flooding that began in earnest in September 2006 continued through to December. Many primary roads remained impassable and numerous villages, especially in the Jubas, were completely cut off. During the third week of December, just as the rains tapered off, heavy fighting erupted between forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) - supported by Ethiopian forces - and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). With a drastically changed operational environment, humanitarian actors are assessing the unfolding situation with regard to humanitarian reengagement on an increased level.

In November, due to access and logistical challenges posed by the rains, the UN had launched a special flood-response operation involving helicopters and boats to deliver relief supplies to affected areas. As flooding conditions gradually worsened along the lower reaches of the Juba river, the two WFP helicopters initially stationed in Wajid (Bakool) were on 12 December moved to Kismayo to enhance the response in the Jubas where presence of humanitarian agencies was very limited. Dropping river levels of the Shabelle, meanwhile, slowly resulted in improved road conditions which facilitated road transportation of relief supplies to riverine areas. Along the Juba, the air logistical support provided by the helicopters proved highly valuable. On 24 and 25 December, WFP carried out airdrops into Lower Juba, dropping a total of 28 metric tonnes (MT) of food.

Just as the situation began to stabilize - with flood waters receding and flood emergency response moving into the Jubas - widespread conflict broke out in critical locations throughout southern Somalia. Intermittent and localized fighting between the two parties had been building up in different locations since early December at a time when the UN Security Council voted to modify the arms embargo and authorize the establishment of a stabilization mission to Somalia. Fighting gradually escalated and spread from around Baidoa (Bay) to central Galkayo, Hiran and Middle Shabelle, with ICU forces retreating from their previously controlled areas.

On 24 December, a four-front counter-offensive was launched by the TFG, with openly declared support from the Ethiopians, against the ICU, including air strikes over the urban centers of Beletweyne and Mogadishu. The impact on humanitarian activities was direct. For security reasons, the TFG on 24 December announced that Somalia's borders were closed (mainly with regard to port and air access) directly affecting humanitarian flights into Somalia. The UN and most international NGOs relocated their international staff to Nairobi, and helicopters for the flood-relief operation were moved to Kenya on 26 December. While national staff continued activities where they could, the momentum behind the flood response and other life-saving activities virtually ground to a halt. Following negotiations with the TFG and Kenya, an exemption was made for humanitarian flights on 29 December, and flights resumed, albeit on a very limited basis.

In January, however, access to the Jubas and Gedo was again curtailed by the Government of Kenya's decision on 2 January to seal its border (also on account of security concerns), preventing cross-border movement of humanitarian relief. Continued military air operations by the TFG/Ethiopian forces (and two US air strikes) also negatively impacted on access and activities, as did the presence of militia, inter-clan conflict and the lack of local authority interlocutors/counterparts (to fill the power vacuum left by the ICU). Further, harassment and arbitrary detention of aid workers by Ethiopian forces deterred some organizations from resuming presence. The use of Kismayo airport in Lower Juba by Ethiopian military left the airstrip off-limits to UN flights, preventing, among other things, a much-needed medical mission to Kismayo to monitor the presence of Rift Valley Fever, confirmed in neighbouring Kenya.

Following various demarches undertaken by the Humanitarian Coordinators of the Kenya and Somalia operations, a directive allowing cross border movement was issued by the Kenyan government on 7 February. Until then, relief supplies had remained stuck at the border. As of 5 February, over 9,000mt of food aid were waiting at El Wak and Mandera border points in Kenya, while 40 WFP trucks had been unable to re-enter Somalia for reloading of relief at El Wak. Aircraft fuel for humanitarian flights within Somalia and non-food relief supplies were also unable to cross. Agencies, where possible, employed alternative means to move cargo, with emergency fuel being flown in from Kenya at high cost, and food and non-food items being shipped from Mombasa port. The border closure also prevented Somalis seeking asylum from crossing into Kenya (see protection section). Following the issuance of the directive, on 9 February, two trucks carrying jetfuel crossed at Mandera destined for Wajid. On 13 February, 40 trucks loaded with WFP food crossed at the El Wak border point. It is hoped the directive will break the impasse over the Kenyan border issue.

Humanitarian passenger flights have now resumed to most of South/Central, with the exception of airstrips in Lower Juba and Merka (Lower Shabelle) and Johwar (Middle Shabelle). The opening of Galkayo (Mudug) represents a breakthrough in access and has facilitated the implementation of a multi-agency response now underway; for the past eleven months Galkayo had been closed to UN international staff due to insecurity. Various missions have also taken place to Mogadishu (although cleared on a case by case basis) where the UN is now making the necessary logistical preparations to support enhanced presence and engagement. Efforts are underway to ensure better access to Beletweyne, Jowhar, Kismayo and Merka.

Since early January, reports are increasingly coming in of a worsening security situation in the capital, with a rise in gun and mortar attacks (including on high-profile installations), rapes and checkpoints. In early February, the situation continued to escalate. A mortar attack on 5 February targeted the capital's seaport, and vessels reportedly moved further out to sea for safety. Ship owners have indicated that they would be hesitant to return to Mogadishu port without a guarantee of safe berthing from the TFG. In other locations of southern Somalia, reports are coming in of an increasing return to inter-clan fighting. The return of warlords also raises serious concerns. That said, the precarious humanitarian situation calls for urgent re-engagement and assistance to populations in need. If any degree of stabilization is to be achieved, the necessary support must be provided to bring about some degree of law and order and delivery of basic social services.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
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