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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

19 October 2007

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, said the recent arrest and detention of the top World Food Programme (WFP) official in Somalia was yet another sign of the worsening conditions for humanitarian workers on the ground there. Speaking at a press conference this morning at United Nations Headquarters in New York, to brief reporters on the humanitarian situation in the country, he said that, although aid workers in Somalia had always had to deal with hazardous conditions, in the past few months, the situation has become significantly worse. The movements of humanitarian workers were now being closely watched by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which was established in 2004 to bring reconciliation to a region divided into clan fiefdoms. He commented, “If we go into zones that are not under the TFG control, they say we are feeding the terrorists.”

He said such suspicions may have been behind the arrest earlier this week of the WFP official. “The Minister of the Interior said yesterday that, in fact, the World Food Programme had plans to distribute food in non-TFG controlled areas”, said Mr. Laroche. “But that is precisely what we should be doing. If somebody’s suffering, you don’t care if they’re under the TFG control or not.” At the time of the press conference, the Transitional Government had still not released an official explanation for the arrest.

Mr. Laroche said close monitoring of humanitarian workers was decreasing their effectiveness on the ground. He described one incident in which he and a colleague from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs were driving a 30-kilometre stretch of road from Mogadishu to Afgoye, to assess the situation of internally displaced persons. They were closely followed throughout their trip by a pick-up truck with a machine gun mounted to it.

An increased number of road blocks set up by governmental and non-governmental forces were also a significant problem. He said he and his team recently counted 238 blockades on roads leading into south and central Somalia, a region where young children were currently suffering from the highest levels of malnutrition ever recorded in the area. Trucks were forced to pay anywhere from $30 to $400 to pass through each road block. Without their own militias, those vehicles were unable to deliver humanitarian goods to the populations in need. Mr. Laroche said currently only 20 per cent of the children in that region were receiving the food and medicines necessary for their survival.

As access to populations in need deteriorated, the number in need was rising. At the beginning of this year, Mr. Laroche estimated the number of Somalis in immediate need of humanitarian aid at roughly 1 million. Today, he said the figure was closer to 1.5 million.

“It is very difficult nowadays to do our work”, he said. “There is a need to put some sort of structure of governance in Somalia. This is what has been lacking for 15 years. If there is no more ‘State’ today in Mogadishu, we’re back to another 15 years of chaos.”

Asked about the support of the international community for Somalia, Mr. Laroche said “We are getting much more than before. Never ever have we got so much money as now.” Donor contributions were earmarked for both humanitarian work and reconstruction efforts, and should help to increase overall assistance and peacebuilding on the ground.

Despite the increased dangers of working in the country, Mr. Laroche said the humanitarian community would boost their numbers in the near future. “Unless we are in the country, beside the Government, we cannot do our proper work and we are not properly informed and we have no leverage”, he said. More international staff had already begun arriving in the region to help ensure that international aid reached the people most in need, despite an increasingly volatile situation on the ground.

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For information media • not an official record

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