Put people before politics to save lives in Somalia, urge agencies

Oxfam and other agencies urge governments to do more to ensure aid gets through to people.

September 21, 2011

The world must put people’s lives before politics if is to stand any chance of aiding people suffering from the famine in Somalia, a group of 20 aid agencies said today in an open letter. While aid is getting through in many areas, it is not at the scale needed to address the enormity of the crisis and hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance. With predicted rains now bringing the threat of deadly disease, a range of restrictions are still preventing the rapid boost in aid that is so desperately needed to save lives.

"Our partners in Somalia are doing a tremendous job under very difficult circumstances but action is urgently needed to assure free passage of food supplies and people if we are going to avert many more deaths," said Robert Fox, Oxfam Canada’s executive director."All parties to the conflict and the international community need to put protecting lives at the top of their agenda."

The letter urged international governments to change their approach to Somalia and enhance diplomatic engagement with the parties to the conflict, to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. It said donors should also remove any legal impediments on providing impartial assistance to people living in areas dominated by armed groups.

A focus on military solutions is not the answer and could make things worse, the agencies warned. In the past military action has only led to increased death and suffering, and further reduced humanitarian access.

The agencies called on all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities and allow aid to be delivered throughout the country.

"Never before have we faced such acute suffering with so many lives at stake," the agencies said. But they warned the crisis could soon get even worse, as the rains predicted for next month threaten to spread disease including cholera, measles and malaria that will decimate communities already ravaged by famine and malnutrition.

Open letter: NGOs call for all-inclusive dialogue to save lives in Somalia

As NGOs who have worked in Somalia for decades, we are accustomed to the daily struggle to survive that is the reality for most Somalis. However, never before have we faced such acute suffering with so many lives at stake. Somalia is at a turning point. The next three months are critical; hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance. Efforts to increase assistance and prevent more deaths will not be enough unless accompanied by a dramatic change in approach. The humanitarian imperative of saving lives must override any political considerations at this crucial time.

It is hard to imagine that the suffering in Somalia could get any worse. Yet we know that the arrival of the Deyr rains predicted for October 2011 will result in increased suffering and lead to the deaths of many more weak and vulnerable Somalis in communities already decimated by famine. The spread of cholera, measles and malaria will have a devastating effect on malnourished men, women and children.  Current restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance are preventing the rapid scale up of aid that is so desperately needed in Somalia.

This scale up should not and cannot be achieved through military means. Somalia’s recent history has demonstrated that military action has often led to increased death and suffering, and further reduced humanitarian access.

Lives will be saved through active dialogue rather than military action. We welcome recent statements by some donor governments that an all‐inclusive dialogue is possible and necessary and urge further efforts in this respect from all sides.

With this in mind we call on:

Parties to the conflict to:

  • Immediately commit to a full cessation of hostilities throughout Somalia
  • Allow free passage of assistance and for those seeking assistance; and
  • Remove restrictions on the delivery of impartial aid and allow organisations to scale up theirassistance, both in terms of experienced staff and essential materials such as food, water and medicine

International governments and other actors to:

  • Enhance diplomatic efforts and engage with all parties to the conflict to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Somalia. We encourage members of the League of Arab states, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Somalia diaspora to continue to use their influence to achieve the rapid scale up of humanitarian assistance and save lives.
  • Remove any legal impediments to providing assistance in areas dominated by armed groups aid must be provided impartially, based on need, and independently of any political or military agendas
  • Ensure that funding is available to support the levels of assistance that are needed; and
  • Set aside funds for long term solutions.

Despite our best efforts we know that many lives will be lost. Yet we are faced with a window of opportunity, a critical period where a change in approach ‐ putting people before politics ‐ could save thousands of lives.

Action Africa Help – International (AHH‐I)
Caritas Switzerland
Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
Family Empowerment and Relief Organization (FERO)
Finn Church Aid (FCA)
GRT Group for Transcultural Relations (GRT)
Integrated Development Focus (IDF)
International Rescue Committee, Somalia (IRC)
KAALO Relief and Development (KAALO)
Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
Médecins du Monde France (MDM)
Mubarak for Relief and Development Organisation (MURDO)
Vétérinaires Sans Frontières ‐ Germany (VSF G)
World Vision (WVI)

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For more information

Juliet O'Neill
Media Relations