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WFP says Somalia piracy threat to food security

NAIROBI, June 26 – Somalia faces a serious food crisis if no nation steps forward with naval ships to escort relief shipments through pirate-infested waters, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned Thursday.

A Dutch frigate is now in its last days shepherding two WFP-chartered vessels which shuttle between the Kenyan port of Mombasa to where the United Nations warns 3.5 million people will need food relief by the year’s end.

"We need a foreign navy to take over the escort system before mid-July when we hope to send a ship from Durban, South Africa, loaded with WFP food to Mogadishu," WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon told AFP.

"WFP has still not recieved any confirmed offer from any foreign navy, but we have been in contact with many governments and pray that someone will step foward."

‘s waters are among the most dangerous in the world prompting the UN Security Council earlier this month to authorise foreign warships to enter Somali waters to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea.

The WFP’s appeal comes as it seeks to double the amount of food it ships to with a view to feeding around 2.3 million people a month, Smerdon said.

Since November last year, French and Danish frigates have escorted WFP shipments to , which has been gripped by lawlessness since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Aid groups have scaled down operations in the face of growing insecurity, largely blamed on Islamist militants who have waged a guerrilla war since they were toppled by Somali and Ethiopian forces in early 2007.

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Smerdon said: "If humanitarian assistance cannot reach because of piracy, we fear that we could see scenes similar to the 1992-1993 famine in that cost hundreds of thousands of lives."

Hyperinflation and recurrent drought have worsened conditions in — and because of the poor state of Somali roads and the civil unrest, 90 percent of UN aid reaches by sea.

But ships are a prime target for pirates, who operate high-powered speedboats and carry heavy machine guns and rocket launchers along ‘s 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) of largely unpatrolled coastline.

Lately, a multinational taskforce based in has been patrolling parts of the waters off the Somali coast, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, where a pirate mothership is believed to be operating.

In addition to selling on stolen food aid, pirates demand ransoms to free the crew members of the ships they pounce upon.

In one instance, the crew of one WFP vessel was held hostage for 45 days and in another case one man was killed while attempting to beat off pirates boarding the boat.

In 2005, the WFP temporarily suspended aid deliveries by sea after two pirate attacks on its ships.

The French-based charity group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) warned of a disaster unfolding.

" is no longer on the verge of a catastrophe, the disaster is happening now," MSF director of operations Bruno Jochum said.

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Jochum urged , which closed its border in February 2007 to stop escaping Islamist rebels from crossing during the war with Ethiopian troops, to re-open its frontier for suffering Somalis.

"Somalis today are trapped in a conflict, people should be allowed to escape this if they want to. , as a neighbouring country should implement the convention for refugees," Jochum told a press conference in Nairobi.

"Twenty-four months after the political and military involvement of international community members in the name of restoring stability and fighting terrorism, the situation is catastrophic for the Somali population," added MSF international council president Christophe Fournier.

"The conflict has escalated, with violence against civilians perpetrated by all sides contributing to the current humanitarian disaster."

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