Open letter to Somali leaders, military commanders, elders and community - Representatives

I am deeply concerned about the effects and consequences that the ongoing fighting in Mogadishu is having on an already appalling humanitarian situation in Somalia.

The scale of the fighting during recent weeks has been the worst residents of Mogadishu have experienced in the last sixteen years, and civilians are suffering greatly and bearing the consequences of the violence. Far too many people have been caught in the crossfire. Indiscriminate artillery fire and shelling of heavily populated residential areas have resulted in hundreds of deaths and casualties. More than 1,000 war wounded have been admitted in the two main hospitals of Mogadishu since the start of the year. Over 340,000 civilians - almost a third of the city's population - have fled the capital since February. The numbers continue to increase as the fighting goes on and insecurity prevails.

The majority of those who have left the city have headed to regions neighbouring Mogadishu, in particular Middle and Lower Shabelle. Thousands more have travelled long distances to Gedo, Lower Juba, Hiran, Galgadud, Mudug, Bay, Bakool and Somaliland. Most of the displaced are women, children and elderly who now find themselves camped along main roads with no proper shelter, food, clean water, sanitation, health facilities and protection. I am gravely concerned by the reports of abuse, harassment, theft and rape perpetrated on the displaced. Those who lack the means to leave Mogadishu are trapped in the city and have no choice but to endure the effects of the fighting. Of even more concern are reports of children being recruited for the fighting, and who are lost or separated from their parents.

These violent developments follow on from a year in which Somalis have already suffered unduly from severe drought and flooding, overlaid with waves of intense fighting. The outbreak of acute watery diarrhea throughout Somalia - with confirmed cases of cholera - is adding to the toll. Over 17,000 cases have been confirmed throughout southern and central regions, with over 600 related deaths. People are living in highly unsanitary conditions, and the risk of acute watery diarrhea and cholera spreading is very high. This could in turn further compound the already critical nutritional status of many in South Central Somalia.

To aggravate the situation further, the Gu rains have started and forecasts predict a possibility of flooding, in the coming weeks. Many sections of the .tuba and 5habelle river embankments remain open subsequent to damage resulting from the Deyr flooding. This could spell disaster for riverine communities and the thousands of displaced from Mogadishu who are living unsheltered on main roads close to the lower reaches of the Shabelle river.

Somalia is in the middle of a major human tragedy. Yet ongoing military activity and insecurity, in and around Mogadishu, has, and continues to severely restrict the provision of humanitarian assistance to those in critical need. Pre-positioned relief supplies in UN and NGO warehouses in Mogadishu remain difficult to access. Prevailing insecurity along main roads, harassment of humanitarian staff at checkpoints in key locations, and lack of access (until recently) to strategic airstrips near Mogadishu have all greatly obstructed humanitarian efforts.

We are already working with some of you to ensure that aid reaches those in need. However, much remains to be done. As Somali leaders and representatives, your role in facilitating access is important and your efforts in ensuring unhindered humanitarian access and safe passage of relief, as well as aid workers, is crucial. I am thus appealing to your leadership to undertake and ensure the following:

- That all parties - including the Ethiopian military forces - to respect the provisions of International Humanitarian Law. In particular, the distinction between civilians and combatants must be upheld and vital civilian infrastructures such as hospitals must not be targeted by combatants.

- I urge you to support humanitarian efforts by publicly reaffirming your commitment to ensuring and facilitating unfettered and safe access for all humanitarian assistance and personnel to reach and protect populations in your areas. This includes guaranteeing unhindered access to all humanitarian convoys, shipments and flights.

- I urge you as authorities, local and community leaders, militia and military commanders to ensure the safety and security of all humanitarian personnel and assets, which includes the full protection of vehicles, equipment and missions as well as the security of airstrips and roads used by humanitarian organisations. In this regard, I request that the necessary instructions be issued and communicated on the ground. In particular, I urge you to ensure that no relief personnel will be harassed or detained at checkpoints.

- For the purpose of assessments, consultations or provision of assistance and protection, we count upon your commitment to facilitate access to any community, or implementing partner in your area. In this regard, you are urged to respect the neutral, impartial and independent nature of all humanitarian activities.

- Ongoing military activity is not a solution to bringing peace to Somalia and will only exacerbate the plight of thousands of Somalis. I appeal to all parties to agree on a lasting cessation of hostilities with commitment to a ceasefire.

The humanitarian community at large is working hard to meet the soaring needs in Somalia. It is, however, incumbent on you, as political and military authorities as well as leaders of your communities, to do what is in your power to put an end to hostilities and to foster peace and stability in the interest of the Somali people, as well as to help create an environment conducive to free and unhindered humanitarian access.

We are trying our best to boost our capacity to deliver on the ground. This, however, will not go far without a commitment from you, that you will honour your moral obligations to facilitate assistance to your communities.

Yours sincerely

Eric Laroche

UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia

Cc: Inter-Agency Standing Committee for Somalia

Somalia Support Secretariat

Local and international media

TFG Inter-ministerial Humanitarian Committee


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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