The Red Cross is investigating claims by al-Shabab rebels in Somalia that it was distributing expired food aid. The rebels have banned the ICRC from carrying out relief work in the country.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was the last major international aid agency allowed to operate in areas of southern Somalia controlled by al-Shabab. The rebel group claims the ICRC had betrayed the trust conferred in it by the local population by storing food which had passed its expiry date and was therefore unfit for human consumption.
The ICRC has declined to comment until an enquiry is completed. However, the ICRC's spokeswoman for Africa, Anna Schaaf, said they would not be leaving immediately. "We have been there for thirty years, so we won't be leaving in a few hours."
The Red Cross has been active in Somalia for 30 years
Political analyst Agina Ojwang attributes al-Shabab's motives in banning the Red Cross to the rebels' desire "to be the only authority as the sole source of food, medicine and security. With the recent raid by US marines and the loss of some of their captives, they must have been shaken," he said. "The alleged bombing of some of their facilities by the Kenyan airforce is also a worrying phenomenon."
There's also the presence of the Ethiopian forces to add to the rebels' concerns.
Sheikh Abdisamad Abdiwahab from the Nairobi-based Southlink consultancy company says the consequences of the ban on the Red Cross could be severe. "People will feel insecure," he told Deutsche Welle. "There is a food shortage in these areas. People will die.There is a lack of medical care and infant mortality will rise. Life will become difficult because al-Shabab have no mercy for the civilian population."
Local communities had been relying heaviliy on the ICRC since al-Shabab seized parts of southern and central Somalia after pulling out of the capital Mogadishu more than six months ago.
A Somalian refugee carrying a sack of wheat provided by a relief agency
The situation throughout the Horn of Africa region is grim. A combination of conflict and drought had led to mass migration. With the onset of rain, some people had started to leave the refugee centers and return home. However many have lost their cattle, leading to the emergence of a new group, the expastoralists, as Grace Mukasa, East Africa Regional Director of the UK-registered charity Practical Action, told Deutsche Welle.
"To live in a pastoral community without animals means you've lost everything. You have no status, no livelihood, no food," she said.
Mukasa stresses the need for a concerted effort by the people affected, by governments and by civil society. And there should be more support from the international community, she says, as the Horn of Africa "is manifesting the issue of climate change."
Author: James Shimanyula, Nairobi /sh
Editor: Mark Caldwell / rm