UNICEF urges airlines to cut costs of delivering aid to Somalia

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pretoria - As aid agencies continue to scale up their response to the dire humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is appealing to the air transport sector to provide free and discounted cargo space to bring emergency food supplies into the region.

"Commercial air transport costs as much as the value of the food," Marixie Mercado, UNICEF's spokesperson in Geneva told a news conference there.

British Airways, Lufthansa, UPS Virgin and Cargolux have already offered free or discounted cargo space, and UNICEF is appealing to other carriers to help transport food aid from Europe to the region to help children who will die without it.

Drought in the Horn of Africa has ravaged large areas of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, leaving an estimated 12.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

UN agencies and their partners are seeking $1.4 billion so they can scale up their response to the hunger crisis, which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives.

A South African medical team, including dieticians, paediatricians and food supplies, are already in famine-hit Somalia, helping hundreds in dire need a day.

Humanitarian group Gift of the Givers, who landed there on Monday, took with them 41 tons of water, food and medicines, and has put together a medical team comprising three paediatricians, five general practitioners, two medical practitioners specialising in reproductive health, a paramedic skilled in primary healthcare and six dietitians.

Operating in a clinic that was bombed during the recent civil war, the team is assisting with relief efforts in the east African country's capital, Mogadishu.

The Gift of the Givers are waiting for another two planes carrying aid on Thursday, while the other departs on Monday, 8 August.

Yesterday UN humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, warned that the famine in two areas of southern Somalia could spread to five or six more regions, unless there is a massive increase in funding.

Mercado stated that more than half of the 2.3 million acutely malnourished children in the Horn of Africa could die unless they are fed within weeks.

Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF's Director of Emergency Programmes, said: "Having the airlines to support us would be most welcome, and I think there's a lot of goodwill out there to do just that."

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that its ability to deliver much-needed aid is being hampered by the ongoing fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

There were already more than 370 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu before the recent drought and famine-related displacement, which has driven some 100 000 people into the war-ravaged city, according to the agency.

"The ongoing offensive is negatively affecting the ability of UNHCR and other partners to deliver assistance to populations in distress at a time when their needs are most urgent," said UNHCR spokesperson, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba.

Meanwhile, the flow of refugees from Somalia into Kenya continues unabated, with more than 40 000 Somalis arriving in the Dadaab refugee complex - already the largest and most congested in the world - in July. This is the highest monthly arrival rate in the camp's 20-year history, UNHCR said.