There are many factors that are inhibiting those suffering from the food crisis in Somalia to leave their country and seek help, food and refuge elsewhere — but al-Shabaab, an organization that controls much of south-central Somalia, is making it virtually impossible.
Currently, there are more than 1.46 million internally displaced people — people who are forced to flee their homes but remain within their country’s borders — in Somalia. Women and children make up 80% of displaced persons in the Horn of Africa region, and within the past two months 100,000 people have arrived in the capital of Mogadishu, pushing the number of displaced people in the city to 470,000.
Al-Shabaab is not only making it hard for aid organizations to reach people in need, but it is also reportedly preventing desperate people from leaving the area it controls. According to the Atlantic Council, the organization is using force — or the threat thereof — to prevent displaced people from leaving its territory to find help.
Although not monolithic, al-Shabaab controls much of southern Somalia and has ties to the global terrorist network, al-Qaeda. The State Department estimates that 60 percent of the 3.7 million Somalis in need are in al-Shabaab controlled territory, which makes avoiding al-Shabaab impossible.
Fortunately, that number is likely to drop significantly, as al-Shabaab recently withdrew from Mogadishu, where it has wielded control for the past several years. The move will facilitate aid workers’ ability to access the area. While this is good news, their motives are uncertain, and the challenges posed by al-Shabaab will persist throughout other areas in the south. Governments and organizations are helping improve aid access where they can.
AMISOM, an African peacekeeping mission currently deployed in Somalia, is providing security for the refugee population and accompanying aid workers and relief supplies to the interior. A few weeks ago, AMISOM foiled two attempted suicide bombings in Mogadishu.
The US government recently eased the burden of restrictions for aid organizations working in the Horn of Africa, allowing more aid to reach the area. Between the easing of restriction and the withdrawal of al-Shabaab for Mogadishu, significant improvements have been reported, but access remains the number one challenge to aid delivery.
This week, hope began to materialize for internally-displaced Somalis, when emergency supplies from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), were delivered to Mogadishu via air lift. UNHCR hopes to raise $145 million from donors to help refugees and internally displaced people in the Horn of Africa. So far, it has raised $65 million in contributions and pledges, only enough to cover 45 percent of projected needs.
While aid organizations and agencies operate at full capacity to reach as many people as possible, millions remain malnourished and trapped in drought-stricken areas, or displaced.
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