The new escalation in fighting and insecurity along the Kenya-Somalia border risks increasing the suffering for civilians already devastated by drought and conflict, international agency Oxfam said today, three months since famine was announced in Somalia.
Oxfam said that any increase in fighting is likely to cause further displacement and restrict the aid effort at a time when 750,000 Somalis are at risk of death due to deteriorating conditions. The agency urged all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and make all efforts to minimize civilian casualties, while ensuring that the flow of aid to famine zones is not affected.
“We are extremely concerned about the humanitarian impact of new fighting in Somalia at a time when humanitarian needs are already critically high,” said Mark Fried, policy coordinator at Oxfam Canada.
Oxfam said the fighting, and the tightening of security along the border, could also make it much more difficult for refugees to leave Somalia for Dadaab camp, and that their right to seek refuge in Kenya must be upheld. Several hundred refugees have been crossing the border every day in search of aid and safety.
"We are extremely concerned that the current fighting is likely to have a serious impact on communities left struggling to survive by the famine. The top priority at the moment must be making sure that people get aid quickly. But increased conflict will make it even more difficult to provide them with food, water and other life-saving assistance," said Fran Equiza, Oxfam’s regional director.
Oxfam also condemned recent insecurity in Kenya, which has hampered the aid effort there and has forced Oxfam to reduce some of its work. Kenyans need security and protection, but Oxfam said the best way to achieve a secure region is through a peaceful and lasting solution in Somalia.
The situation in Somalia is increasingly alarming. The famine is expected to spread over the next month, including to some of the regions that are now facing further conflict. More than 1.5 million Somalis – one in six of the population – have been forced from their homes due to conflict and drought, and more could now be made homeless.
"People are fleeing the most unimaginable suffering and arrive at camps desperate for food, water and shelter. Kenya has legitimate security concerns, and has already welcomed a huge number of refugees, but it must continue to ensure that people can seek safety and shelter." said Equiza.
Malnutrition rates among children in Somalia are the worst in the world, and the upcoming rainy season brings the threat of outbreaks of disease among communities weakened by malnutrition.
A surge in the humanitarian response over the past three months has helped bring aid to many parts of Somalia. Oxfam partners are currently assisting more than 700,000 people in the country with clean water and sanitation services. However, insecurity and other restrictions mean that many people are still not getting the help they need.
Oxfam said that in the past military action in Somalia has had a negative impact on civilians and further reduced access for aid agencies. It called for a new approach in dealing with the Somalia crisis, through sustained diplomatic engagement involving all the different parties.