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UN food agency appeals for naval escorts for shipments to Somalia

12 June 2008 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) appealed today to naval powers to help protect its food-delivery ships from pirate attacks, saying that as many as two million Somalis could go hungry without this protection.

A Dutch frigate is scheduled to finish escort services for WFP on 25 June. Despite an upsurge of piracy in Somali waters – according to the International Maritime Bureau there have been 31 attacks so far this year – no WFP ships have been targeted since the escort system started last November.

“Without escorts, our whole maritime supply route will be threatened,” WFP Country Director Peter Goossens said. “Shipping companies are reluctant to sail unescorted to Somalia, and we have no offers to take over from the Royal Netherlands Navy.”

WFP says that millions of Somalis are suffering from a combination of insecurity, drought and high food and fuel prices.

“If relief shipments slow down, we could face a major catastrophe,” Mr. Goossens added, saying that WFP is trying to scale up food distributions to avoid a disaster.

Malnutrition is on the rise in Somalia. An unusually harsh dry season and poor April-June rains, which followed a succession of droughts and poor harvests, have led to increasing hunger in the central region of the country.

The situation is compounded by conflict, hyperinflation, the weakness of the Somali shilling, high unemployment and high food and fuel prices.

Some 80 per cent of WFP food for Somalia arrives by sea. From mid-November until now, a succession of French, Danish and Dutch frigates have escorted 27 ships loaded with 112,500 tons of WFP food – enough to feed nearly 1 million people for six months.

WFP says that relief food deliveries by sea are essential. High commodity prices in East Africa have prompted WFP to purchase food in South Africa and the food agency plans to ship 220,000 tons of food by sea to Somalia between June and December, to reach a total of 2.4 million people per month by December.

Experts fear that the number of people requiring food assistance later this year could reach 3.5 million people – nearly half the total population.

Without urgent new contributions, WFP warned it will run out of food for Somalia in September.

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