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World Food Program Appeals for Naval Escort for Somalia Food Ships

By Joe DeCapua
12 June 2008

The World Food Program is appealing to the world’s naval powers to continue their voluntary escorts of food ships heading for Somalia. With about two million people needing emergency assistance in Somalia, ships are crucial to WFP humanitarian operations.

Peter Smerdon is a WFP spokesman based in Nairobi. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the appeal.

“We’re making this appeal because the Dutch navy is currently escorting ships carrying WFP food into Somalia, but they are due to finish doing that on June 25th. They’ll take a last ship to Mogadishu. And we have received no offers from foreign governments with naval ships in the region who could take over the escort service, which has been running since mid-November last year and has carried almost enough food to feed one million people for six months. So, it’s essential that we do have continued escort service to protect us against piracy.”

No WFP ships have been attacked since the escort service began. “That is despite an upsurge of piracy in Somali waters. There have been at least 31 attacks so far this year on ships off Somalia by pirates,” he says.

Smerdon says if there’s no naval escort for food ships, shipments of aid by sea may stop. “Our worry is that shippers, ship owners, will be extremely reluctant, in fact they will probably refuse to go into Somali waters with ships carrying WFP food unless they are escorted.”

Since the WFP appealed for help last year, France, Denmark and the Netherlands have volunteered ships for escort service. One frigate can food ships, but Smerdon says two would be better, with the increased demands for food aid in Somalia. Eighty percent of the food aid coming into the country arrives by sea.

Bringing in food by land is problematic. Smerdon says, ”The only alternative (to) sea is to bring it in by road from Mombasa in Kenya, up through northeast Kenya, across the border. And the difficulty is that…takes a long time. It takes sometimes three weeks to get into Somalia from Mombasa with a truckload of food. And secondly, the road networks in Somalia are extremely bad. There’s widespread insecurity. So, if you’re bringing food over the border, but you actually need to feed people near Mogadishu, you have to bring it by road right across the country.”

The WFP spokesman says malnutrition is on the rise. On a recent trip to Somalia near the Ethiopia border he found people who couldn’t pay the higher food prices hitting Somalia and many other countries. Some, he says, were eating wild food, which is a starchy, potato-like root normally eaten by wart hogs and hyenas. The rains have failed in Somalia preventing the usual harvests.

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