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Somalia at dire crossroads: UN official

LONDON, July 18 – The United Nations World Food Programme said Friday that attacks on aid workers on the ground and threats to ships delivering food aid to Somalia, are jeopardising the lives of millions who now need urgent food assistance.

“Somalia is at a dire crossroads,” said Peter Goossens, WFP’s Country Director for Somalia at a news conference in London.

“If sufficient food and other humanitarian assistance cannot be scaled up in the coming months, parts of the country could well be in the grips of disaster similar to the 1992-1993 famine, when hundreds of thousands of people perished.”

Insecurity, drought, a succession of poor or failed harvests, are deepening the suffering of millions of people in the country, and pushing hundreds of thousands more into destitution.

The situation is exacerbated by the weakness of the Somali shilling against the dollar, coupled with rising food and fuel prices.

Goossens has warned that deteriorating security was hindering land and sea deliveries of food. WFP has appealed to foreign governments to provide naval escorts to protect WFP food ships against piracy.

Goossens said naval escorts from France, Denmark and the Netherlands proved invaluable over the last eight months, protecting WFP ships against piracy and armed robbery.

WFP has received no commitments for further escorts beyond June.

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90 percent of the food WFP gives to Somalia’s hungry arrives by sea.

A rash of killings or kidnappings of staff from UN agencies and non-governmental organisations in recent weeks has also threatened to sabotage the response to the emergency.

The overall number of people in need of food assistance is expected to rise to 3.5 million people by December.

WFP has to double the amount of people it feeds from more than one million per month, to 2.4 million by December.

CARE International and the International Committee of the Red Cross are to assist the remaining 1.1 million.

Families are increasingly hungry because they cannot afford to buy food, even if available in markets.

Malnutrition among children under five is rising fast, and NGOs have seen a drastic increase in the numbers of malnourished children as well as a sharp rise in admissions to nutritional centres.

WFP is urgently buying food for Somalia in South Africa, but the agency faces a shortfall in resources of $210 million until the end of March 2009.

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