Somalia: UN Humanitarian Coordinator deeply concerned about worsening humanitarian situation in Baidoa

Nairobi (12 March 2003) - UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Maxwell Gaylard is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in and around Baidoa, where fighting for control of the town has disrupted aid activities for more than eight months.
"I am gravely concerned for the welfare of the people of Baidoa," said Mr. Gaylard. "Since fighting erupted in July 2002, access to the area has been extremely limited. As a result, civilians have been displaced several times over and aid activities ranging from food distribution to health services have been seriously disrupted. With the dry season underway, residents of the town are now facing water shortages. The international humanitarian community must urgently be allowed safe and unhindered access to the area so that we may fully assess and respond to the deteriorating situation."

UN international staff have been prevented since July 2002 from operating in the once stable humanitarian base, after renewed fighting between Chairman of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) Hassan Mohamed Nur "Shatigadud" and RRA deputies Sheikh Aden Madobe and Ibrahim Habsade. The town has since changed hands several times, and the long period of instability has spawned a wave of banditry and targeted killings. Increasingly, UN and NGO vehicles are being targeted for looting, and landmines, recently laid along some of the roads connecting Baidoa and the rest of the Bay region have further hindered the delivery of relief supplies.

Due to the insecurity, humanitarian conditions in the town have worsened, in particular in the area of health. Aid agencies have been forced to curtail services in local Maternal Health Clinics and war wounded are being taken long distances and often along circuitous routes to avoid the front lines. Some have died during transport. Only six months ago, efforts to eradicate polio in the Bay region were among the most smoothly functioning in Somalia but as a result of the fighting, the monitoring of polio vaccinations has been seriously hindered.

Further, well levels have dropped significantly due to the dry season, driving the price of water up by 200 percent, and thus increasing the vulnerability of the poorest of the poor. While outbreaks of cholera in Baidoa town have been limited in recent years, it is feared that the reduction in water supply could precipitate an outbreak. Food distributions have also been affected.

The loss of the town as an operational and supply base for aid agencies, as well as a hub for the UN Common Air Service (UNCAS) flights, has also adversely affected the humanitarian community's ability to implement and coordinate activities throughout the rest of southern and central Somalia, by making movement and communications more difficult.

"The situation is dire," said Mr. Gaylard, who also serves as the Designated Official for UN Security in Somalia. "To this end, I appeal to the parties of the conflict to live up to their commitments in the Eldoret Declaration to cease hostilities. I also welcome any and all efforts by the recently created Committee on Monitoring the Cessation of Hostilities to ensure that parties to conflict respect their moral and legal obligation to stop fighting and allow aid to reach those who need it most."

For further information, please contact:
Kelly David-Toweh, UN Coordination Unit/ UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Tel: +254 2 4448433


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