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US to send aid to Islamist Somalia areas

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 21- The United States government is to send aid to famine-stricken Somalia in light of recent reports that Al-Shabaab will allow international humanitarian aid into areas under its control.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Dr Raj Shah told a media conference in Nairobi on Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s administration was ready to test Al Shabaab’s pledge with caution, considering the terrorists group’s refusal to grant humanitarian access to the area since January last year.

“We are determined to test that pledge. We would like to see that access expand dramatically and rapidly. We are providing food and other programmatic resources in support of those actors as they begin to expand their services in those areas and we do expect that Al Shabaab and others will honour their pledge,” he said.

The move marks a considerable change in policy from Washington after President Obama’s executive order in April 2010 naming Al-Shabaab a terrorist organisation, meaning no US aid could go to areas under its control

Dr Shah did acknowledge the risk of sending aid to a terrorist controlled area citing past incidents of humanitarian convoys being harassed, taxed and food supplies misappropriated.

“We all operate under the same legal restrictions that we want to provide support to those populations in critical need and not to terrorist organizations and so that is what the entire humanitarian community is trying to do here. We are trying to make sure our humanitarian commitments reach those most vulnerable people,” he clarified.

The UN on Wednesday declared a famine in two areas of southern Somalia as the region experiences the worst drought in more than half a century.

The USAID has already provided $431 million since last October to boost food security in the Horn of Africa and has announced an additional $28 million commitment designated for food assistance in Somalia and the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.

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“Twenty-three million dollars is for food and services in specific parts of Somalia that are hardest hit and an additional $5 million dollars of food assistance building on the 41,000 metric tones of food we’ve already provided to the refugee population at Dadaab,” said Dr Shah.

After returning from a one-day trip to Dadaab on Wednesday, Dr Shah said this is the largest and fastest effort by an international partner, adding that the US government is also committed to long-term development-based initiatives to strengthen food security in the region.

“In 2009 President Obama called on the world to make more than $22 billion worth of investments in long-term food security and agricultural development with specific focus on sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so the US committed to make $3.5 billion ourselves and we have been living up to that pledge.”

With over 370,000 people currently inhabiting the Dadaab complex that is designed to accommodate 90,000, overcrowding remains a serious issue. Over the past few weeks the camp has recorded approximately 1300 entrants on a daily basis.

Dr Shah said the success of the operation in Dadaab is heavily dependent on effective Kenyan leadership further commending recent commitments by the government to allow for expansion of the existing Dadaab refugee facility, and improvement of logistics to allow rapid intake.

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