19/04/07 (B392-A) AFP / L’ONU craint une gigantesque catastrophe humanitaire en Somalie. (En anglais – Info lectrice)

Humanitarian catastrophe looms in Somalia

A humanitarian catastrophe is looming in Somalia unless heavy fighting subsides
and access for relief aid is opened up, especially around Mogadishu, a United
Nations official said on Thursday.

« Unless something is done, the humanitarian crisis is going to turn into
a catastrophe very soon, » Eric Laroche, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator
in Somalia, told journalists.

Laroche said relief deliveries to thousands of displaced people were being
blocked by government forces, UN aircraft were being shot at, corpses were
lying in the streets of the capital, a cholera or diarrhoea epidemic is taking
hold and new flooding is likely soon.

UN officials are due to meet Somali officials on Monday to discuss the situation,
Laroche said, adding, however, that so far the transitional government had
made no attempt to help the UN’s humanitarian efforts.

Laroche said that in one incident, government forces stopped 40 trucks carrying
relief supplies for about 14 000 displaced in Afgooye, close to Mogadishu,
and prevented them from distributing aid.

Local staff who carry out the bulk of the UN’s aid work in Somalia were harassed
and detained at checkpoints. Three mortars were fired at the last aid flight
near Mogadishu, the UN official said.

Tensions in Somalia have risen again since Ethiopian forces helped the UN-backed
transitional government to oust Islamists from Mogadishu at the start of the

The Islamists have launched a guerrilla war against the Ethiopians and the
capital is in the grip of fierce fighting, while more than 124 000 people
have fled the city in the past two months according to the UN refugee agency.

« We have been making attempts to reach the Ethiopian authorities. I have
never received an answer, » Laroche said.

However, Laroche said access for relief aid in the rest of central and southern
Somalia has opened up in recent months.

A UN delegation was in Kismayo, a southern city that had been largely out
of bounds before, to organise aid deliveries.

The UN wants to deliver relief assistance to one million people, including
about 400 000 who are displaced, over the next six months.

« There is another crisis that no one is talking about, a cholera epidemic, »
Laroche said.

About 12 500 people are suffering from acute watery diarrhoea, « which
often is cholera », in Somalia, and 414 people have died, he added. Many
cases were not being treated because of the problems delivering aid.

The rainy season is approaching and river banks broken by heavy flooding last
year have still not been repaired, opening the way for new floods even with
normal rainfall, Laroche said.

The cholera epidemic largely arose from last year’s flooding.