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UN suspends food aid to southern Somalia

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) pulled out of southern Somalia on Tuesday, citing repeated threats and raids by commanders of Al Shabab, the Al Qadea-linked Islamist militant group.

Internally displaced Somali children line up to receive food aid at a food distribution centre in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Saturday. The center is run by an NGO called SAACID, and is funded by the WFP Somalia.

Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP

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Somalia’s hardline Islamist militia, Al Shabab, has forced a halt to United Nations food relief, putting at least one million Somalis at risk of hunger.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) suspended its food relief operations today, citing repeated threats by Al Shabab commanders, raids on its offices, and detention of its staff. Al Shabab commanders in the southern portion of Somalia had gone as far as demanding monetary payments to ensure the security of WFP staff, and also placed demands that WFP found untenable, such as firing of Somali women staffers and coordinators of food-relief programs.

“Ninety-five percent of the territory where WFP operates is controlled by Al Shabab, and in November, Shabab gave us a list of 11 conditions for aid agencies to meet, including removing women from jobs in aid work,” says Peter Smerdon, spokesman for WFP in Nairobi, where most of the agency’s Somali operations are coordinated. “They also made a demand for payment of $20,000 over six months for security. We can’t agree to the conditions and to that payment, so feel that it is time to pull out for the moment.”

Humanitarian crisis brewing?

While WFP will continue to deliver aid in parts of Somalia that are not under the control of Al Shabab, reaching up to 1.8 million people, the pull out of food relief is almost certain to have profound effects on the Somali population.

Nearly 2.2 million Somalis receive food aid every month, and nearly 71 percent of the Somali population suffer from under-nourishment, according to UN reports.

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