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Piracy forces WFP to use convoys to Somalia

Following a plague of piracy off the Horn of Africa that has closed its usual supply lines by sea, WFP has announced the arrival in southern Somalia of the first truck convoy carrying food aid in almost five years.

Fourteen trucks reached the town of Wajid in Bakol region on Sunday after an arduous 1,200-kilometre drive from the Kenyan port of Mombasa and through 25 militia checkpoints in Somalia.

Distribution

WFP distributed some of the food to 720 internally displaced people and returnees on the edge of Wajid within hours.

Three more trucks, which were delayed by breakdowns, are expected to arrive in Wajid within days. The convoy of WFP-contracted trucks was loaded with 500 metric tons of food.

"Too risky to sail"

It is 25-30 percent cheaper to bring our food aid in by sea and boats can carry much more, but we have had to resort to this land route because ship-owners feel it is too risky to sail to the south
WFP Somalia Country Director Zlatan Milisic
“This is a great achievement, but sadly it was forced on us by the pirates who have attacked our chartered ships and other vessels this year,” said WFP Somalia Country Director Zlatan Milisic.

“It is 25-30 percent cheaper to bring our food aid in by sea and boats can carry much more, but we have had to resort to this land route because ship-owners feel it is too risky to sail to the south.”

The food aid in the whole convoy consisted of 137 tons of maize donated by Denmark and the Netherlands, 20 tons of vegetable oil from Sweden, 50 tons of pulses from Canada and 293 tons of maize bought with funds provided by the African Development Bank.

"Severe food shortages"

“We are having to use land convoys just when the humanitarian situation in southern Somalia is deteriorating,” said Milisic.

“It couldn’t happen at a worse time; the current rains in the south are failing and there will be severe food shortages, so WFP must rapidly increase deliveries to the south, and that will be very difficult.”

Crisis expected

The start of the Deyr rains was delayed by three weeks in October and while there have been some localised showers, they are insufficient and patchy.

Even if there is an improvement in the rains during December, a crisis in Gedo and Juba regions is expected. It is forecast that total cereal production in Somalia from June 2005 to May 2006 will be the lowest in a decade.

Hardest hit

Out of the more than one million people in Somalia that WFP aims to reach with food aid in 2005, 640,000 people are in the south.

The hardest-hit districts include Gedo, Bakol and Middle and Lower Juba.

Since October, unusual movements of people and livestock have taken place towards the Juba River, so the numbers of those in need could easily increase.

High malnutrition rates

We are having to use land convoys just when the humanitarian situation in southern Somalia is deteriorating. It couldn’t happen at a worse time
WFP Somalia Country Director Zlatan Milisic
Malnutrition rates in many parts of southern Somalia hit by conflict, droughts and floods are already unacceptably high with up to 20 percent acute malnutrition among children under the age of five in some areas.

For WFP, a rate of 15 percent or more is considered an emergency.

In a worst-case scenario, WFP would need 50,000 tons of food aid for the hungry in the south for the next six months.

Spate of hijackings

WFP’s food aid stocks in Somalia are at an all-time low because of the spate of ship hijackings, including the seizure this year of two WFP-chartered vessels, one of which was held for three months.

Ship owners are very reluctant to sail to Somali ports and are demanding armed escorts before they do so.

Waters off Somalia are considered among the most dangerous in the world. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government signed a two-year contract in November worth more than US$50 million with New York-based Topcat Marine Security to take action against the pirates.

Funding needed urgently

As well as using the route from Kenya to southern Somalia for the first time since February 2001, WFP is planning to bring in food aid overland from Djibouti into northern Somalia.

“We urgently need more funding, given the increasing food needs and rising transport costs, as well as better access to the affected communities,” Milisic said.

To date, the WFP operation has a shortfall of US$17 million or 24 percent of the total.