Summary of Press Conference by UN Humanitarian Coordinator Philippe Lazzariniin Mogadishu
Mogadishu, 15 June 2014
Thank you very much the members of the media here in Mogadishu. It is my pleasure to welcome you here at UNCC [United Nations Common Compound]. I think it is the first time that we have had a conference here after one and a half years; I think it was last I gave here.
I called you today in my capacity as Humanitarian Coordinator in order to discuss about the overall humanitarian situation in the country. I do believe and I have repeated many times over the last few months that we are at a junction; we are in a situation in which if there is no more attention on the unfolding humanitarian crisis, we are taking the risk to fall back into a major crisis.
So that is the reason why I have asked you to come today and to explain to you how we read the overall situation. Let’s start to look at humanitarian indicators here, I mean, in the country. We have already within the displaced population acute malnutrition which are beyond the thresh hold of 15 percent. Somalia is one the countries where you have one of the highest child malnutrition rate; we have one in seven children below the age of five who is in acute malnutrition. Somalia is one of the countries where you have the highest death rate among the children; you have one child out of ten we will not see its first birthday, you have one child out of five who will never reach the age of five. And it is certainly one of the worst countries for woman to give birth.
Besides that, you know that we have one million displaced people; it’s one of the highest numbers of displaced people in the world behind Syria, South Sudan. And you all know what conditions - appalling abject living conditions - these people are going through. In any other country, these would already have triggered a massive response. But somehow in Somalia, we forget to put this into context and we have got used to this.
There have been a certain number of early warnings recently, we have been warned that the rainy season is below average and this will impact the harvest. But we also know the majority of the people in need are living in South Central Somalia. Besides this weather forecast, we have an ongoing conflict, we have people living in places where commodities are not reaching them, we have insecurity and we are in an overall context where humanitarian funding is shrinking.
So what is going on right now? Right now we have about 900,000 people who are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, among them 200,000 children below the age of five. Besides that, we have a situation in which two million people are teeteing on the edge of food insecurity who can easily slip back into a situation of emergency if no careful attention is brought to them.
And this take places at a time people are living in a situation in South Central Somalia where the access is becoming more and more difficult because of the current conflict, because of the fact that supply roads are cut and because of the fact that some cities are encircled. This has triggered right now - during this raining season - a doubling, if not a tripling, of food prices.
Besides that, we have a health outbreak; we have measles - you might have heard my colleague of UNICEF [the UN Children’s Fund] and WHO [the UN World Health Organization] ringing the alarm bell. We have an unusual number of new cases; we had 30,340 cases of suspected in March–April and only in May we had 1000. With measles, the problem is that not everybody dies - may be one out of 10 children will die of measles - but it will leave behind lasting disabilities for these people.
So, in the face of all this, I can tell you that the humanitarian partners are extremely mobilized and trying their best to respond to the needs of the people. Only this year, until June, 2.8 million people have received either food assistance or livelihood assistance.
We have almost 100,000 children who have been treated for malnutrition and we have provided water clean water to more than 400,000 people and primary health care to more than half a million people.
And we had also, you might know, a very successful polio campaign more than 4 million people have been vaccinated. I was about to share good news with you today; I was about to tell you over the last six months we had no new cases of polio. I was about to mention the Ministry of Health would have declared the country polio-free. Unfortunately, there has been one recent case, one case in Mudug, which has been confirmed, which means we will redouble our efforts to make sure that next time I meet you I can tell you that we succeeded in making the country polio-free.
With the ongoing military offensive, a certain number of places in South-Central Somalia have become more accessible for assessment of humanitarian needs. Out of up to the ten newly accessible places, we have already assessed the need in five places. I personally went yesterday to Wajid to look at the situation there. And we have also provided the assistance to all the people who have been displaced in places like Baidoa and Afgoye. Unfortunately, and this is what I have told the donors over the last few months, we are extremely badly funded. I mean we have an important appeal for 2014 for more than US$900 million, but we are as of today only 22 percent funded, which means we still have a shortfall of US$740 million.
And I am telling to the donors that we cannot stop our efforts halfway - more resources are needed today to prevent the country slipping back into emergency crisis.
Today for example, UNICEF is about to put an end to all its primary health care programmes; more than two and a half million people in the country would be affected.
WFP [the UN World Food Programme] has a shortfall of US$40 million to US$50 million and if this is not addressed now, it will impact from September its ability to respond to the food needs of the people. When I look at the funding for the water [and sanitation] activities, it is so bad that most of the partners have suspended their activities in the IDP settlements here in Mogadishu.
To respond to the measles outbreak, we need to initiate a campaign for four to five million people in the country and for that we have a short fall also of about US$10 million.
So as humanitarian partners what have we done? We have told the donors that our overall aid appeal is underfunded, but what we need today is US$60 million. We need US$60 million to respond to the most urgent needs over the coming two months. And when I say most urgent need, I mean only life-saving need. I am not talking about building resilience, alleviating the suffering of the people - I am talking about life-saving needs. That means to treat 50,000 children who suffer acute malnutrition, to make sure that the assistance can be transported in South-Central Somalia, to ensure the continuation of the vaccine campaigns, to ensure that the people have access to clean water.
So basically today we are in a situation in which early warning is telling us the ‘Gu’ [long rainy season, usually between March and June] season will be below average, the harvest will be below average at a time when it is more and more difficult to move within South-Central Somalia because of insecurity, at a time when commodities are not properly reaching the people, and at a time when the overall humanitarian funding is shrinking.
All these elements are unfortunately familiar to all of us. We have today all the ingredients in place for the country and population to slip back into a major crisis. And you might remember in 2010 we had the same kind of warning – there were 13 early warnings until a major crisis was declared. But when it was declared, it was too late because most of the people had already died; half of the 250,000 people [who died in the 2011 Somali famine] had already died. Today we are in a situation where if we redouble our efforts we can prevent the country slipping back again into a major crisis. And this is the reason why I have and my colleagues have over the last few months drawn the attention of the partners, of the government, of the international community - you have to keep Somalia high on your agenda.
Not only Somalia, but the humanitarian narrative, because if we fail to address the needs to the people, if we fail to prevent the unfolding of a new crisis, not only will it be morally terrible, but we would also undermine the broader political and peacebuilding agenda in the country.
You cannot build peace and institutions and at the same time let the humanitarian situation worsen in the country. So that is why we have to - today – work with the humanitarian community using a two-pronged approach: number one, keep Somalia high on the agenda - you members of the press here in Mogadishu, help us to keep the humanitarian situation also high on the agenda so that it triggers general mobilization in order to prevent the crisis from broadening - And number two, we are also calling for better access in South-Central Somalia. If the people are accessible in the cities it becomes really accessible if commodities can reach them. Hence it is important to the opening of the supply roads.
The best we can do is to prevent the crisis from occurring and the worst is if there is no such unfolding crisis, at least all this assistance would alleviate the day-to-day life of the people. And at least this assistance would contribute to building resilience, which is desperately needed in this country.
So I am ready now for questions and answer but I do believe that first my colleague will summaries in Somali. Thank you.
Q: There have been 10 areas which have been liberated during the operations, what is stopping the humanitarian organisations from accessing the other areas and how come help is not getting to people?
A: Right now we have about 900,000 people who are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, among them 200,000 children below the age of five. Besides that we have a situation in which two million people are teetering on the edge of food insecurity who can easily slip back into a situation of emergency if no careful attention is brought to them.
Recovering areas will benefit the population only if the supply lines are also open. Newly accessible areas need to be properly accessible. They need to be accessible for the Somalis, they need to be accessible for the business community, they need to accessible I mean for the humanitarian partners. That’s the only way to provide assistance, to assist this population and to go even beyond the humanitarian assistance.
Basically, what is the agenda of Somalia? It is a peace- and state-building agenda, the New Deal is a development agenda; it is restoring basic social services for the people. But this is possible if you have access to the people and once you have access to the people that you have genuine grass root, I mean administration state building that are implemented.
We haven’t visited all the areas but Bulo Burte [in Hiraan Region] and Qoryole [in Lower Shabelle Region] are two areas which have been accessed by humanitarian partners. There has been response, mainly when it comes to the health response and nutrition response, but we have a lot of demand from the people regarding food assistance. We have to be clear regarding food assistance – it’s extraordinarily expensive and complicated to bring food assistance to people in cities through small planes or through helicopter.
The need for food supplies varies from one region to the other one, there is no doubt about this - Middle Shabelle used to be the food and bread basket, but it does not fill the function of food basket for the rest of South-Central Somalia. Having said that, it is not one element which contributes to this unfolding of these humanitarian needs; it’s a combination of elements and this is one of the reasons I said there are really troubling similarities with the period that prevailed in 2010.
We keep hearing that the rainy season is below average, so most likely we will have a ‘Gu’ harvest below average. Then all our attention will go on September-October about the ‘Deyr’ rainy season and hoping we will have a better Deyr season. But if this fails also, and we have two or three consecutive failings of the seasons and you combine that with extreme difficult mobility for commodities in South-Central because of the conduct of the conflict and then combine this with the shrinking resources of the humanitarian partners, you start to have a cocktail which if not addressed now, might unfold into a new major crisis.
Q: The UN is also alarmist in their approach of warning, sounding warning on the situation because we only hear that there is crisis there, there is shortage there but we never hear of this good news from somewhere. So can we conclude that this is all part of the alarmism that will contribute to the problem?
A: Definitely not. I am very cautious of the tone being used, and I am not telling you we have a famine, I am telling you that if we do not pay enough attention today we might slip back in a situation which might be similar to the one this country experienced only a few years ago.
I will never repeat it enough, we had 13 early warnings last time and maybe people asking exactly the same question after 5 early warnings or 6 early warnings, and all of a sudden we declared the famine and the emergency after the people had already died - it was very late.
What we are saying today is that we have again early warnings and we need to take this into consideration. Early warning means early action, we have the means in our hands to prevent the unfolding of this crisis. We are not yet there, but if we do nothing and if we will have this crisis the point is, by providing more access to water to the people, providing more livelihood opportunities, providing more basic health to the people today to prevent a crisis, we cannot be wrong because even if the crisis does not unfold, we will alleviate the basic need of the people.
So I do not think that we are unnecessarily alarming. But let me also make one point: there are many crises in the world and clearly Somalia has not been, over the last year, considered as a priority when it comes to addressing the humanitarian side of the need in the country. There are too many competing situations and the money is limited, no doubt about this.
Number two, since the end of the famine, and rightly so, there is a new energy in the country, a positive energy - we are talking about the peace- and state-building agenda, we are talking about the New Deal, but we were talking about that so much - and rightly so - but we haven’t given space to what was going on the humanitarian side.
My point today to the international community and to the partners is that we need to address simultaneously the peace- and state-building agenda, the security agenda, but we should not the humanitarian agenda off the table. Let’s complete what needs to be completed. The message is not be alarmist, the message is to say if we continue to ignore, well this might backlash and undermine the rest of the of the positive agenda which is also unfolding in the country.
The plan is the same for any place where security prevails and which are accessible, I mean if they haven’t been any team yet to Elman and I mean and Elman is properly accessible.
Q: We always hear that the United Nations is pledging support to Somalia not only humanitarian but also peacebuilding and security, but nothing tangible comes out of those pledges. What are the reasons behind the failures of realizing the pledges in Somalia?
A: Well I shared with you numbers of figures of what has been reached only in 2014 when people have received agricultural livelihood activities, children that have received food, can have access to primary health care, I mean for the daily life of the people - this is something tangible.
Now I agree with you that there is a broader agenda of the development agenda; the New Deal, the conference in Brussels which took place last year, the pledges need to be translated. We are working on pledges, not only with the donors but with the government and the agencies, to make sure that the aid can be provided in a transparent, accountable way benefiting the people while also contributing to strengthening the institutions of the country.
It takes time, it is not always visible but I can assure you that in many fields progress has been made. I attended a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister on Thursday on the New Deal and we have taken stock of the progress the partners have made, but we also say the same as what you say, that it is now time to translate all these plans, all these preparations into deliveries for the people.
Q: In the 2011 crisis, the UN was saying that they cannot reach those areas because the areas were under Al Shabaab control, now the areas have been recovered but you are still saying that the areas are not accessible, so what is the way forward? How can the money you realize from your humanitarian appeals be utilized to go to those areas?
A: Again the people you are referring to are people living in cities in South Central. These cities can be reached, most of them by small plane but they cannot yet be reached in a sustainable way by road. The UN or humanitarian agencies will always supply through private contractors, and a private contractor will go from Mogadishu to Hudur, for example, if the road is safe or if the driver or the company believes they can make it from Mogadishu to Hudur.
Today there is a situation where there is no private contractor who will accept to go there, who will accept to take the risk because they are saying the road is not safe. Newly accessible areas are accessible for us to go by plane for some type of supply but not for all the commodities. It is not yet accessible for the business and this is an important indicator. If the price of the market are doubling or tripling today, it is not only just because of the rainy season, it is also because commodities are not reaching these areas and that is also the reason why we are advocating for better supply roads for better access to those areas by road.
You cannot, and I repeat, you cannot, provide general food distribution to populations in need with a plane carrying 1,000 kilos. The transportation will be ten times more expensive than the food. At some times the resources are scarce, sometimes we compete with other priorities, so this is not a solution today.
Q: How many cases of Polio have your team discovered this year as compared to last year?
A: The epicentre of the polio outbreak was Banadir region and we had no new cases in Banadir region this year. So we still have to look at what this Mudug case means, it seems to be an isolated case. We have to look at where the strain of the polio comes from, but for the time being we do not have any indication that there will be a new epicentre of the polio outbreak.
We went from a very high number - 193,194 cases - which triggered this massive polio campaign and one year later we were about to say we have had no new cases in the last six months.
We have the Mudug case that we have to follow up with, we will redouble our efforts, we will make sure that polio becomes a priority of the national health authority and is a priority for the WHO and its partners. We will make sure that this remains.
Now what about the coverage in South Central? I can tell you that coverage has increased compared to one and a half years ago. Polio is a terrible disease as you know, and we haven’t reached everybody yet - that’s correct - but we are redoubling efforts to reach everybody with the support of local communities and clan elders. That’s where we stand.