NAIROBI, Jan 22 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has said it is seeking a secure operating environment from all local administrations and armed groups in South and Central Somalia to allow the agency to continue providing life-saving assistance in the wake of the killings of two WFP staff.,
"Our only goal in Somalia as an impartial international organisation is to alleviate the suffering of the Somali people," said WFP Deputy Chief Operating Officer Ramiro Lopes da Silva. "We cannot do that when our courageous staff are being targeted."
Expressing outrage at the killings by gunmen on January 6 and 8, Lopes da Silva said WFP considered, but opted not to suspend food distributions in South and Central Somalia because this would only increase the suffering of innocent people during a possible power struggle after the pullout of Ethiopian forces.
But at the same time as it delivers more food in the coming weeks to more people to feed them until the end of February, WFP demands concrete commitments from community leaders and local parties that WFP staff will be protected in order to keep operating in the coming months.
"With the murder of two of our staff within three days, we initially considered suspending WFP food distributions until security improves. But such a step would hurt the very people we seek to help – especially women and children suffering the most from this merciless conflict," Lopes da Silva said.
He added that WFP was in the process of delivering some 57,000 metric tons of food in South and Central Somalia – enough to feed 2.5 million people for 1-2 months.
"We want community leaders to step forward and offer us clear assurances that WFP workers will be able to carry out their humanitarian work in safety," Lopes da Silva said. "We will continue distributing food in those areas where we receive concrete security commitments, but we will not work in areas where security commitments are absent."
Some of the worst conflict since 1991, drought, high food and fuel prices and the internal displacement of 1 million people since early 2007 have increased the number in need of humanitarian assistance in Somalia to 3.25 million – nearly half the entire population. Malnutrition among children under five remains well above emergency levels in many areas.
On January 6, three masked gunmen shot and killed 44-year-old Somali national Ibrahim Hussein Duale, while he was monitoring school feeding in a WFP-supported school in Yubsan village, six kilometres from the Gedo region capital of Garbahare. Witnesses said the gunmen approached him while he was seated, ordered him to stand up and then shot him.
On January 8, three gunmen shot and killed 49-year-old Somali national Mohamud Omar Moallim while he was monitoring a food distribution to displaced people in a camp northwest of Mogadishu. The killings brought to four the number of WFP staff killed in Somalia since August 2008.
Five WFP-contracted transport staff were killed in 2008. WFP has repeatedly demanded that armed groups protect humanitarian workers and assistance. Amnesty International says that over 40 civil society activists and humanitarian workers were attacked and killed in 2008.