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UN Says Somalia Insecurity Puts Flood Aid At Risk
By Wangui Kanina
NAIROBI, November 24, 2006 – Insecurity in Somalia is threatening efforts to help more than a million people uprooted by floods sweeping across large parts of the chaotic Horn of Africa country, the United Nations said on Friday.
The worst floods for decades have struck amid fears of war pitting the nation's interim government against rival Islamists. Both sides are heavily armed and fast-rising tensions between them have to be factored into planning any humanitarian mission.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) hopes to use two Mi-8 helicopters to deliver relief aid to thousands of people in Somalia's Juba and Shabelle river valleys, where all roads and bridges have been washed away.
But it fears the aircraft could prove a tempting target.
"Anyone can think you are spying ... and shoot at you. Even if we paint the U.N. logo on them, there are still some people in Somalia who would like to get the U.N. in trouble," said Phillipe Lazzarini, the head of OCHA in Somalia.
"Even if you are shot at and not hurt, the whole operation will be stopped, and that will have severe consequences for the lives of Somalis," he told reporters in neighboring Kenya.
Lazzarini said the government, which is confined to the provincial town of Baidoa, had set up an emergency committee which was ready to meet its Islamist counterpart to discuss how to help aid efforts. Somalia's newly powerful Islamists hold Mogadishu and much of the south.
The U.N.'s Food Security Analysis Unit said on Friday that Somalis make up the vast majority of the 1.8 million people affected by torrential rains that have battered eastern and Horn of Africa countries in recent weeks.
Growing fears of war over the last two months had triggered a "significant and increased population displacement" in Somalia and over regional borders -- adding to the disaster, it said.
In Ethiopia, where at least 80 people have been killed and thousands more displaced, the government appealed for $7 million in aid, including helicopters to deliver it to flood-hit areas.
An official said more than 500,000 people were affected in areas bordering Somalia, where relief workers were preparing to treat possible outbreaks of water-borne diseases like malaria.
In Kenya, where rising waters completely cut off three large refugee camps near the Somali border last week, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said the situation was getting worse.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult to meet the urgent needs of the 160,000 refugees in the camps without road links," it said in a statement.