Population dying like flies, UN officials warn




Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 30 July 1992

Almost the entire population of Somalia is in danger of being wiped out by famine unless food aid is received soon, United Nations officials are warning.

A UN under-secretary general, Mohamed Sahnoun, said yesterday that of the country’s estimated seven million inhabitants, up to 1.5 million were close to death and 4.5 million were reaching the point of near starvation.

“The people here are dying like flies. Some of them die in queues waiting to get a bowl full of slop. I have never seen anything like this in my life,” a senior UN official in the capital, Mogadishu, told Reuters.

Mr Sahnoun predicted that a UN food airlift would begin within days, despite the absence of an agreement with the country’s warring factions over the deployment of UN troops to protect relief workers.

After two days of meetings with Somalia’s clan leaders, he said the airlift, approved by the Security Council on Monday, would bring supplies to the capital and up to six centres in the interior.

“The international community has finally woken up to the tragedy of the Somali people,” Mr Sahnoun said. “If this resolution is followed by deeds, we might see the beginning of the solution to the problem.”

A huge humanitarian aid programme was the key to resolving the total breakdown of security in the country, he added.

After the overthrow of the Marxist dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre, in January 1991, the victorious United Somalia Congress split into warring factions. Their conflict devastated Mogadishu and splintered the country along clan lines.

While the carnage has stopped, sporadic clashes continue to burst out between followers of the clan leaders, President Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farah Aideed. Guns are readily available. Food supplies have been hijacked and stolen by the teenagers who dominate the armies.

Mr Sahnoun said that during talks with both men, as well as the leaders of two smaller factions this week, all the leaders had “promised to co-operate” with the relief effort.

However, UN plans to send a 500-strong force to Somalia are meeting with strong objections from the factions, who have called for the UN to train a 6,000-strong police force to restore order. The 500 troops are regarded by the UN as protection for the relief workers not as a peacekeeping force, which is how the warring factions see them. Mr Sahnoun did not discuss the issue of UN troops during the meetings, though he denied there was deadlock over the issue.

To provide adequate protection for the relief workers, he said more than 500 troops would be needed. Troops from Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Indonesia are likely to make up the force, though exact numbers are unclear.

A UN technical team arrives in Mogadishu on August 5 to look at long-term rehabilitation needs, including the establishment of a police force. The emergency food programme will not part of the team’s area of study, and is expected to start within days.

Two ships carrying 486 Somali refugees stranded at sea for 16 days have been allowed to land at the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Another ship packed with 251 dehydrated, hungry and exhausted refugees also reached Mombasa yesterday after 12 days at sea to join the 330,000 Somali refugees already in Kenya. UN sources said another two vessels carrying hundreds more refugees were on their way from Somalia.

Panos Moumtzis, a spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees, said the new arrivals paid the equivalent of up to $60 per person for their passage. About 1,000 Somalis a day are already arriving in Kenya by land.


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