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Somali Islamists allow drought-hit civilians roam in search of food

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Somali Islamists are letting civilians in drought-hit regions under their control move with relative freedom to find food, the group and a UN official have said. PHOTO | FILE

Somali Islamists are letting civilians in drought-hit regions under their control move with relative freedom to find food, the group and a UN official have said. PHOTO | FILE 

By Reuters

Posted  Friday, March 17   2017 at  10:58

In Summary

  • About quarter of a million people died during the last famine in 2011, when al Shabaab's restrictions on movement and its refusal to allow many aid groups access pushed up the death toll, aid groups say.

Somali Islamists are letting civilians in drought-hit regions under their control move with relative freedom to find food, the group and a UN official said on Thursday, but they are continuing to restrict the access of international aid groups.

Somalia, struggling to recover from more than 25 years of civil war and an ongoing battle between its UN-backed government and Islamist insurgents, could sink into famine if the April rains fail.

About quarter of a million people died during the last famine in 2011, when al Shabaab's restrictions on movement and its refusal to allow many aid groups access pushed up the death toll, aid groups say.

Free to go but...

This time, the insurgents say people can move.

"We do not stop those who want to leave for other places, they are free," Sheikh Suldan Aala Mohamed, the chairman of al Shabaab's drought emergency committee, told Reuters.

Al Shabaab, an al Qaida linked Islamist group, has lost large swathes of territory in recent years to pro-government regional militias and African Union peacekeepers supporting the weak federal government.

Although it lost control of most major cities, it is still strong in parts of rural southern Somalia.

...unable to return

Justin Brady, the head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said he had met several residents who recently left al Shabaab territory and were concerned they would be unable to return.

"If they return from areas of government control, they will be viewed with suspicion and subject to abuse," Brady said.

"It will be unfortunate, if there are decent rains, that they cannot go back with tools and seeds."

Cholera outbreak

Brady said al Shabaab still restricted aid workers' access. Death rates related to cholera and diarrhoea in al Shabaab-held areas were 4.5 times higher than in government-held areas, the United Nations says.

"We cannot reach people with the most basic interventions such as water purification tablets, soap, or jerry cans to improve their water," Brady said.

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