Medecins Sans Frontieres
Friday, March 01, 2013
Integrating aid into UN, AU political and military strategy will threaten humanitarian efforts.
Efforts underway at the United Nations to integrate humanitarian
assistance into the international military campaign against opponents of
Somalia’s government will further threaten the safe delivery of
independent and impartial aid to Somalis struggling to survive ongoing
war, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF) warned today.
The United Nations Security Council is currently deliberating the future structure of the UN’s mission in Somalia. Under discussion is the possible inclusion of humanitarian assistance within the broader political and military agenda for Somalia.
Such an approach, in a country where the ability to provide relief is
already severely compromised, could generate distrust of aid groups.
“As many Somalis continue to struggle to obtain the basic necessities
for survival, such as food, healthcare, and protection from violence,
humanitarian assistance must remain a priority and it must remain
completely independent of any political agenda,” said Jerome Oberreit,
MSF Secretary General. “The humanitarian aid system must not be co-opted
as an implementing partner of counter-insurgency or stabilisation
efforts in Somalia.”
Ensuring the safety of patients and medical staff remains a major
challenge. Aid must therefore remain independent and impartial so that
humanitarian organisations can try to negotiate access to populations in
need with all parties to the conflict and mitigate security risks as
much as possible. Attempts to further politicise humanitarian aid will
put patients and aid workers in even greater danger, MSF said.
“As we’ve seen previously in Somalia, and in places like Afghanistan,
Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Angola, when military stabilisation or
peacekeeping efforts integrate humanitarian aid as a tool to advance
political and security objectives, aid actors, including health workers,
are invariably delegitimised and prevented from reaching populations
trapped in conflict,” said Oberreit. “In extreme cases, aid has even
been denied to populations to serve political interests of stabilisation
efforts. Humanitarian assistance must be driven purely by the actual
needs of a population, and not predicated upon any other agenda.”
Large segments of the Somali population throughout the country
require basic assistance, many in active conflict areas and in zones
controlled by armed groups, such as in south-central Somalia,
underscoring the need for independent and impartial humanitarian aid.
Access to food and adequate medical care is severely limited. More than
730,000 Somalis have sought refuge in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Overall levels of assistance in Dadaab, Kenya, home to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, itself remain insufficient. Calls by Kenya for the return of refugees are premature as long as the security situation remains perilous in Somalia.
More than one hundred Somalis cross each day into Ethiopia
to escape the deprivation, stating food shortages and insecurity as the
main drivers for fleeing. In a recent survey of MSF patients, more than
half (424 out of 820) reported being displaced within Somalia or to Liben, Ethiopia.
More than 187,000 Somali refugees are living in Liben, according to the
UN High Commission for Refugees. Direct or feared violence were the
main reasons for displacement (46 per cent) followed by food shortages
due to drought and limited access to assistance (32 per cent).
“I have been displaced more than 10 times in my life,” a 25-year-old woman from Lower Juba
region told MSF. “My husband died in an attack, and two of my children
died because I was not able to give them food. I try to stay strong but
this situation that our county has been facing for too long is killing
MSF has already had to curtail its activities in Somalia
due to security risks. In October 2011, two MSF aid workers,
Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut, were abducted in the Dadaab
refugee camp and taken to Somalia,
where MSF believes they are still being held. Following the abduction
and until the safe release of the two aid workers, MSF has limited its
operations in Somalia to strictly lifesaving emergency work.
MSF has worked continuously in Somalia since 1991, and continues
to provide lifesaving medical care to hundreds of thousands of Somalis
in ten regions of the country, as well as in neighboring Kenya and
Ethiopia. Over 1,400 staff, supported by approximately 100 people in
Nairobi, provide a range of services, including free primary healthcare,
malnutrition treatment, maternal health, surgery, response to epidemics
like cholera or measles, immunisation campaigns, water and relief
supplies. During the first half of 2012, MSF treated nearly
30,000 severely malnourished children and vaccinated 75,000 against
infectious diseases. MSF teams also assisted in over 7,300 deliveries
and provided close to half a million medical consultations within its