US to aid groups: Feed the starving, even if Al Qaeda gets collateral benefits
Many aid organizations pulled out of Somalia after Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab took over much of the country, partly due to concerns that US officials would prosecute them for aiding the enemy.
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US assistance to Somalia dropped by over 80 percent after part of the country was taken over by Al Shabab, an Islamist group the US had included on its list of foreign terrorist organizations in February 2008.Skip to next paragraph
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US officials say they hope their reassurances to aid organizations will encourage them to return to work in southern Somalia. “We don’t expect any ‘grand bargain’ [with Al Shebab] to allow access to all of southern Somalia,” said one senior official. “But we do believe [aid groups] will be able to move into selected areas” of the starving south.
Some humanitarian assistance groups responded positively to the US action, but also expressed that they want more than verbal assurances.
“We welcome this announcement if it means more aid groups can respond to what is really a tremendous need in southern and central Somalia,” says Semhar Araia, Horn of Africa specialist for Oxfam, the international development organization.
“But we don’t yet know exactly what kinds of reassurances this means, so I think we’re going to see groups waiting for more information,” she added.
“We welcome any step the US is taking to make sure aid can get into the country,” said Megan Fowler, spokeswoman for the organization. “We look forward to seeing the concrete changes which we hope will replace some of the vagueness that has been of such concern to aid agencies.”
Security will remain a very big problem for aid workers in Somalia, Ms. Fowler notes, but she called it “very positive” that US officials are “showing signs that they understand the importance of addressing the problem” of delivering aid in Al Shabab-held territory.
Oxfam is not directly concerned with the US regulations, Ms. Araia says, because it does not accept US government funding and works through on-the-ground “partners” in Somalia. But she says that for groups who do work with US humanitarian assistance funding, the OFAC regulations have been a major concern.
“This famine is going to get worse before it gets better, and it is going to spread as starving people move around to try to find food and water,” she says. “In these conditions it is important that the aid groups that have the experience to go in and assess the needs in this kind of situation have the freedom to do so.”