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Somali Violence Discourages Donors of Aid Rebels Would Permit

Persistent violence in Somalia is discouraging Western governments from funding aid to 3.2 million people in need even as the Islamic rebels who control much of the country are allowing relief work to continue, a senior United Nations official said.

Australia, Britain and Canada have either suspended or slowed their aid to Somalia, Mark Bowden, the UN’s coordinator of humanitarian aid for Somalia, said. The UN has only $334 million of $596 million it needs.

“There is a lot more caution in decision-making and commitments,” Bowden said in an interview. “A lot of donors are looking for reassurance that we have mechanisms” to deliver the aid. “We also suffer from a secondary effect that, when humanitarian budgets go down, it is easy to dump Somalia off the agenda. It is a difficult sell to the electorate.”

Bowden said Al-Shabaab and Hisbul-ul-Islam, the groups that control most of southern and central Somalia, haven’t blocked much of the work by the UN and other aid agencies to end one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. About 43 percent of the Horn of Africa nation’s population requires food and other assistance.

Health services are being delivered to 2.6 million children under the age of 5 and women of child-bearing age, Bowden said. Food is getting to Somalis identified as malnourished and to pregnant and lactating women even after the UN’s World Food Program suspended work because al-Shabaab said the agency couldn’t employ women and had to pay for security.

At the same time, Bowden said the UN is “working under considerable constraints” and that much more must be done in Somalia. Fees and taxes are being demanded at roadblocks, and military operations hamper access to certain areas, he said.

Al-Shabaab has been fighting Somalia’s Western-backed government for the past two years along with other groups including Hisbul-ul-Islam. Somalia hasn’t had a functioning central administration since 1991 when former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.

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