Tuesday December 4 2012

UN: Somali aid crisis 'critical' but chance for change

By Agencies

The humanitarian crisis in Somalia remains "critical" but there is hope for improvement after major security and political changes in the war-torn country, United Nations officials said Tuesday.

Speaking at the launch of a $1.3 billion appeal to support 3.8 million Somalis in the year ahead -- meaning about half the country is in need -- officials noted it was the first time such an project was launched in longtime warzone capital.

"The humanitarian situation in Somalia remains critical," said Stefano Porretti, acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, adding that the situation remains one of the largest crises in the world.

However, a string of territorial losses by Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents -- who place draconian restrictions on foreign aid -- as well as a new government in Mogadishu offered hope for change.

"The improvement in the food security situation and the new security and political landscape present opportunities to break the cycle of recurring crises brought on by drought and conflict," he said.

In 2011, famine in the country caused by extreme drought exacerbated by conflict caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people and affected more than four million people, according to the UN.

The appeal is an increase of the 2012 call for $1.1 billion, of which $668 million was actually provided.

Over a million Somalis are displaced inside the country while over a million are refugees in neighbouring nations, according to UN figures.

Somalia has been in political chaos and deprived of an effective central government since the fall of President Siad Barre in 1991.

However, a new administration took office in September, ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government.

In recent months, the 17,000-strong African Union force, fighting alongside government troops and Ethiopian soldiers, have wrested a string of key towns off the extremist Shebab.