LONDON (AlertNet) - Aid agencies have demanded an end to the politicisation of aid in Somalia, saying they must be allowed to negotiate with all warring parties so they can reach communities ravaged by famine and war.
They also called for donors to review anti-terrorism legislation, which they said had hurt funding and hampered their ability to respond to some 2.3 million people in need of aid.
Somalia was hit by famine last year following its worst drought in decades. But fighting between Islamist al Shabaab insurgents and forces backing Somalia’s interim government has prevented aid agencies reaching some of the most desperate people.
London is hosting an international conference on Thursday to pull together a new effort on tackling the instability in Somalia, which has been wracked by violence for 20 years.
But aid agencies, who held their own “Humanitarianism before Politics” conference on Monday, said humanitarian and development needs must top any agenda for change in Somalia.
One huge problem for aid agencies is access. Swathes of central and southern Somalia are controlled by al Shabaab who have professed loyalty to al Qaeda and have banned some aid agencies from operating. Military operations have also prevented aid getting through.
One participant at the conference, which was closed to the media, said aid groups felt they could not negotiate with al Shabaab for fear of being labelled as supporting terrorism.
“Aid agencies cannot sit down with al Shabaab to discuss how humanitarian aid can be delivered - so how will these people be helped?” he said. “Aid agencies want the right to negotiate with al Shabaab for access.”
Ibrahim Ali Hussein of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which co-hosted the conference said the politicisation of aid was a challenge.
“The humanitarian agenda should be kept separate from the military and political agenda,” added Hussein , who oversees the OIC’s humanitarian programme in Somalia.
He said the international community should put pressure on all parties to the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law so that aid can be delivered without disruption. It should also allow aid agencies to negotiate with all warring parties to get humanitarian access, he said.
Hussein said agencies at the meeting had also raised serious concerns about how counter-terrorism legislation is inhibiting their work, especially in southern and central Somalia.
Aid agencies say funding for Somalia has dropped because donors fear falling foul of laws criminalising material support to terrorist organisations.
Humanitarian groups are also being asked to introduce a host of measures to offset the possibility of aid ending up in the wrong hands.
A document being put together by aid agencies ahead of Thursday’s conference is likely to urge governments to revise their anti-terrorism legislation so that it does not hurt humanitarian activities in Somalia.
In particular, donors and humanitarian organisations should be able to send aid in accountable ways without being accused of funding terrorism. And anti-terrorism laws should not jeopardise the delivery of aid to people living in certain territories.
Al Shabaab is fighting African Union and Somali government forces as well as troops from Kenya and Ethiopia who have entered the country in support of the beleaguered authorities in Mogadishu.