Global Policy Forum

UN Urges Attention to Somalia


By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press
May 22, 2007

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes urged the international community to not to turn its back on Somalia at a time of desperate need, saying the government appears to be seriously underestimating the humanitarian suffering in the country. Holmes told the Security Council on Monday that the United Nations believes almost 400,000 people fled Mogadishu in recent fighting and that the vast majority have not returned. The Somali government claims that only 40,000 were displaced and about half have returned to the capital.

Holmes visited Mogadishu earlier this month and met President Abdullahi Yusuf, but his planned two-day trip was cut short when two explosions went off _ one of them near the U.N. compound that killed three people. During his brief stay, Holmes said, clan elders and representatives of civil society and women's groups expressed concern about intimidation. Several said they were convinced the U.N. and the international community had abandoned Somalia and weren't interested in the fate of the Somali people. "I assured them that this was not true and that my presence in Mogadishu was a symbol of the U.N.'s deep concern, political as well as humanitarian," said Holmes, the most senior U.N. official to visit Somalia since the early 1990s. "We all have a responsibility to ensure that this is indeed the case, and not to turn our backs on Somalis in their latest hour of desperate need."

Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned against each other. The government was set up in 2004, but has failed to assert any real control. The latest surge in fighting, between March 12 and April 26, killed at least 1,670 people and sent at least 400,000 fleeing the capital as the government and its Ethiopian allies tried to quash an Islamic insurgency. The government declared victory more than two weeks ago, and there has been relative calm. But in a city teeming with guns after more than a decade of chaos, the government has declared victory before _ only to have the insurgents reappear.

Holmes said the recent massive displacement "has further compounded one of the most difficult humanitarian situations in the world, in a country affected not only by long-running internal conflict but also chronic food insecurity, alternating droughts and floods and endemic disease." Those who fled are afraid to return because of violence, warnings by the government not to go back to so-called public buildings where they were living, the loss of homes and difficulties in moving, he said. Some 290,000 displaced people have received nonfood aid and the U.N. World Food Program and the relief organization CARE have together distributed food to around 180,000 people, he said. "However, the fact is that so far, assistance has not remotely matched the needs," Holmes said. "There are pockets of south/central Somalia which have remained inaccessible and obstacles to humanitarian access continue."

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Somalia


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