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Questions Dog UN Agency Leading Somalia Relief Plan

Reconstruction effort faces test at donor meeting this week

By Robert M. PressStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 9, 1993



NAIROBI, KENYA

THE United Nations' ability to help reconstruct Somalia's shattered society is meeting with strong skepticism from Western donors and diplomats.

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The plan comprises UN-coordinated projects in all parts of Somalia, in areas such as livestock and agriculture, nutrition, development of local police, water, and sanitation. But while critics give UNICEF high marks for its child health program in Somalia, they question the abilities of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the agency designated to carry out the new UN plan.

The UN is "ill-prepared for the whole thing," says Trevor Walker, an official with the European Community, a major donor to Somalia. "They're still trying to get their act together" in Somalia, he says. Critics say the UN focuses too much attention on the capital, Mogadishu, works too slowly, and lacks dynamic personnel.

The UN plan will be presented at a meeting of private and governmental donors and development groups Thursday and Friday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, immediately before a UN-sponsored peace conference of rival Somali faction leaders in the same city March 14-15.

The near-final version of the plan asks donors for about $250 million by the end of 1993. Additional funds are likely to be sought as more areas of Somali become relatively secure, a UN official says.

The UN is seeking support for the projects despite enduring insecurity in many parts of Somalia. Continued distrust and some fighting among rival clans make a lasting settlement at the March peace conference unlikely, according to Somali and Western observers here.

But reconstruction cannot wait for Somali military and political leaders to agree on peace, says Philip Johnston, the president of the private New York-based relief agency CARE and the UN's temporary coordinator for humanitarian assistance in Somalia. He is the main coordinator behind the UN plan.

The presence of foreign troops "won't secure security for Somalia. Somali security will be obtained from ... providing employment, food security, by re-establishing education, and water," Mr. Johnston says. These steps will tend to strengthen local leaders, he says, which could improve stability even if it takes the warlords a long time to reach an agreement in peace talks.

Few argue against the need for reconstruction in Somalia. But there is deep concern among some donors and officials about the UNDP's abilities.

"They don't have the personnel or ... experience," for the task in Somalia, the EC's Mr. Walker says. He claims the UNDP has shown a "ponderous approach" in Somalia. "I advise [donors to show] caution in moving ahead with UNDP," he adds.

"UNICEF could [handle] a much bigger role" in Somalia, says a US official, who has been to Somalia this year. But the only way any UN agency could effectively coordinate the plan's implementation is for the UN to send in one of their "big guns" to be in charge of the effort, the official says. "They [the UN] need to send in their best people." The official adds that the UN's top emergency people were in charge of the rescue efforts in Ethiopia and southern Sudan in the 1980s and says the same commitment is needed today in Somalia.

UNDP workers left Somalia along with other UN personnel in early 1991, when rebels overthrew the government of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre. But while UNICEF personnel fought for an early return while Somalia was still quite dangerous, UNDP staff stayed in Nairobi, Kenya.

"I wish we'd been in Somalia earlier," UNDP administrator William Draper said by telephone from New York. "We're beginning to build our operations up."

On a visit to Somalia in early February, for example, Mr. Draper promised $20 million of UNDP funds over two years, including $1.2 million to train police in Mogadishu.

Donor backing is also in question. "I doubt [the plan] is going to be supported, primarily because of the UN's reputation worldwide," says Mike D'Adamo of the Nairobi office of US-based Catholic Relief Services. "It's not a positive reputation," he says, citing UN problems in peacekeeping in Cambodia and Bosnia.

UNICEF spokesman Ian MacLeod says there is still an "acute emergency" in central and southern Somalia, where half the country's 1.2 million surviving children are still malnourished. Of the 350,000 people the UN estimates died in Somalia in the past two years, Mr. MacLeod says, new data shows that "up to 250,000 kids died under age five."