IPI HomeNewsComment & AnalysisEngaging Somalia’s Al-Shabab to Allow the Delivery of Humanitarian Aid

 

print print |  share share back back

Comment & Analysis - July 06, 2011

Engaging Somalia’s Al-Shabab to Allow the Delivery of Humanitarian Aid

Jérémie Labbé l Research Fellow for Humanitarian Affairs
labbe@ipinst.org

In the last few months, the humanitarian situation in the entire Horn of Africa region has been steadily deteriorating owing to a drought caused by the climatic phenomenon La Niña. The situation is all the more worrying in Somalia where a decades-long conflict has driven some 250,000 Somalis out of their homes since May in the capital Mogadishu alone, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

It is the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in 60 years, threatening famine for 10 million people and compelling calls for increased humanitarian funding. And as if the humanitarian burden of conflict and drought was not enough, humanitarian actors have had restricted access to deliver aid to populations in territories held by the Somali armed group al-Shabab that controls the bulk of south-central Somalia.

But on July 6, 2011, according to the Associated Press, the group appealed for the return of humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to populations under its control.

Multiple reasons explain the lack of humanitarian access until now.

First, in 2009, more than $50 million of US humanitarian assistance for Somalia was suspended by the US government, then the main donor in Somalia, out of concern that it might benefit al-Shabab, designated as a terrorist organization. This designation created an additional burden for humanitarian agencies that risk prosecution under American law for interacting with al-Shabab elements, although such contacts are necessary to deliver aid as they are often the de facto local authorities.

Second, delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations under al-Shabab’s control is under close scrutiny by the United Nations Security Council since its resolution 1916 of March 2010, as the group represents a threat to peace and security and is suspected of diverting humanitarian aid to fuel its own war efforts.

Last but not least, the World Food Programme (WFP), by far the major emergency food provider in the country, has suspended its own operations since January 2010 reportedly due to escalating threats and attacks against its staff and unacceptable demands from armed groups. In turn, al-Shabab banned WFP’s operations in areas under its control and forced Somalis working for WFP to terminate their contract with the agency.

If the appeal of al-Shabab for the return of aid agencies in the areas it controls is genuine and lasts, it could constitute a unique opportunity to re-engage this armed group and allow the essential delivery of humanitarian—and notably food—assistance.

Indeed, this change of position might be a sign that the group is under mounting pressure from the population and feels compelled to address these concerns, not least because it needs this constituency to ensure its own survival.

Humanitarian agencies could take this chance to re-negotiate conditions for access and delivery of aid, using the group’s own interest as a lever to establish sound bases to avoid diversion of aid. This would allow for addressing the legitimate concerns of the international community while achieving the humanitarian imperative of delivering food to millions of people in need.

 
 

The Global Observatory

Is the Flood of Violent Images Further Dividing the West and the Middle East?
Though the majority of Middle East populations are concerned with peace and security, many outsiders perceive them as only interested in violence and extremism.

Key Global Events to Watch in April
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.

The Global Observatory, produced by IPI, provides timely analysis on peace and security issues, interviews with leading policymakers, interactive maps, and more.

Recent Events

April 05, 2014
IPI Opens Middle East Regional Office
International Peace Institute President Terje Rød-Larsen inaugurated IPI’s new Middle East Regional Office with a recognition of the area’s critical importance to the world and the rapid political changes underway in the countries of the region, and he asserted that IPI has an “important role” to play there.

April 03, 2014
In Horn of Africa, Links Between Disaster, Conflict, and Displacement
What are the links between climate change, conflict, and the displacement of people? A panel of experts discussed this nexus and its implications in the Horn of Africa at the International Peace Institute on April 3rd in an event cosponsored by the Nansen Initiative.

March 26, 2014
Derek Plumbly on Lebanese Resilience Amid Rising Challenges
Lebanon has exceeded expectations in dealing with the continuing fallout from the crisis in neighboring Syria, said Derek Plumbly, United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, on March 26th. Speaking at the International Peace Institute, Mr. Plumbly praised the Lebanese people for “actually sustaining a measure of stability in their country.”

View More