, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 5 – Attacks by Al Qaeda-linked rebels have led to the suspension of food distributions in large swathes of Somalia, leaving one million people outside the relief net, the UN food agency said on Tuesday.
"Rising threats and attacks on humanitarian operations, as well as the imposition of a string of unacceptable demands from armed groups, have made it virtually impossible for the World Food Programme (WFP) to continue reaching up to one million people in need in southern Somalia," the agency said in a statement.
Somalia has been plagued by almost uninterrupted civil conflict since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre and is often described as one of the world\’s worst humanitarian crises.
The radical Islamist insurgent group Al Shabaab, whose leader last year proclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden, has overrun and looted several key UN compounds in southern Somalia in recent weeks.
In the areas they control, the Shabaab have also imposed strict conditions on foreign humanitarian organisations, effectively prohibiting their operations.
"WFP is deeply concerned about rising hunger and suffering among the most vulnerable due to these unprecedented and inhumane attacks on purely humanitarian operations," the statement said.
It added that WFP would continue to provide life saving food distributions in the rest of the country including the capital Mogadishu, reaching more than two-thirds of the hungry it has been targeting – or 1.8 million people.
"In addition, resources and relief workers are being re-deployed from southern areas in the event that people start moving away from areas where food distributions have been suspended."
Even in good years, Somalia is only able to meet 40 percent of the food needs of its population through internal production. In the last five years, local production has averaged only about 30 percent of food needs in Somalia.
WFP’s offices in Wajid, Buale, Garbahare, Afmadow, Jilib and Belet Weyne in southern Somalia are temporarily closed, and food supplies and equipment have been moved, along with staff, to safer areas in order to ensure that food assistance continues to reach as many vulnerable people as possible.
Said the statement: "Staff safety is a key concern for WFP and recent attacks, threats, harassment and demands for payments by armed groups have decimated the humanitarian food lifeline, making it virtually impossible to reach up to up to one million woman and children and other highly vulnerable people."