Cablegate: Somalia - Humanitarian Response

DE RUEHNR #2769/01 3462230
P 112230Z DEC 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: SOMALIA - Humanitarian Response

REF: A) Nairobi 2711 B) Nairobi 2564 and previous

1. (SBU) Summary. As conditions in Somalia continue to
deteriorate, aid agencies are grappling with fundamental
humanitarian dilemmas. Although the crisis has worsened it is not,
nor will it likely become, a famine. Nevertheless, the latitude to
operate in Somalia is shrinking, blurring the lines between
political and humanitarian activity, and reducing the ability to
respond to needs and use resources effectively. The American NGO
CARE is ending its operations in South/Central Somalia following
threats and kidnappings from al-Shabaab. A potential Ethiopian
military pullout may cause greater volatility in the humanitarian
arena, especially in Mogadishu. The October 29 suicide bombings in
Hargeisa and Bossaso have affected humanitarian operations in
Somaliland and Puntland. Increased difficulties in delivering aid
could lead to significant out-migration. End Summary.

Shrinking Humanitarian Space
and Accountability

2. (SBU) Humanitarian conditions in Somalia continue to
deteriorate. The United Nations estimates that nearly half of the
population will require humanitarian assistance, which will cost an
estimated $900 million over the next year (ref a). The operating
environment for agencies conducting humanitarian operations is more
complex than ever. Agencies are grappling with the most fundamental
humanitarian issues, including those of neutrality, impartiality, do
no harm, and basic accountability. This cable seeks to lay out some
of the current challenges, issues, and debates facing the
humanitarian community in Somalia.

3. (SBU) The high level of general insecurity, compounded by
assassinations, threats, and kidnapping of humanitarian relief
workers has reduced the capacity of aid agencies to respond to
on-going and new emergency needs. Many agencies have withdrawn
their international staff and now have national staff or local
Somali non-governmental organizations (NGOs) run their programs.
However, even national staff and agencies are finding it difficult
at times to access areas. Agencies freely acknowledge that many
programs are being implemented via "remote control" and understand
the increased risk this poses for misuse and diversion of aid.
Individual agencies debate whether conditions have already
deteriorated to the point that minimal levels of security and
accountability have been exceeded.

Line Blurred Between
Humanitarian and
Political Actors

4. (SBU) Our partners tell us that some Somalis no longer
distinguish between humanitarian and political actors. Agencies,
particularly U.S.-based ones, believe they are now being targeted
because of their perceived associations with certain U.S. government
activities, such as the missile strikes in Dhobley and Dhusamareb in
2008. The United Nations is also vulnerable to the same charges,
when distinct UN agencies, like the U.N. Political Office for
Somalia (UNPOS) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
provide direct support to the political process while simultaneously
responding to humanitarian needs through the World Food Programme
(WFP) and UNICEF. Discussion in political fora about humanitarian
issues is also seen as controversial by some aid organizations, as
it links humanitarian and political issues in a way that they
believe compromises perceptions of their neutrality. Aid agencies
generally advocate for a de-linking of humanitarian and
political/development activities.

CARE: Targeted and Closing Out

5. (SBU) CARE has publicly maintained that its Somalia program is
only suspended following the kidnapping of two CARE staff and
threats from al-Shabaab (ref b). In fact, CARE is preparing to
close its operation --its largest-- including shuttering offices and
terminating the majority of its staff in South/Central Somalia and
Nairobi. CARE had been one of the two major food aid response
agencies in Somalia (along with WFP) and it implemented a wide-range
of USAID-supported activities. Some of CARE's programs will move to

NAIROBI 00002769 002 OF 004

Somaliland and Puntland, where CARE will maintain a presence, and
CARE remains hopeful that the threat in the South and Central
regions will recede, so that it can resume programming there. In
the meantime, WFP has agreed to take conduct food aid distributions
in CARE's former operational areas.

A No-Win Decision:
Losing Leverage
Against al-Shabaab

6. (SBU) We have expressed concern over the humanitarian
community's reluctance to protest threats against CARE (as well as
against the U.S.-based NGO International Medical Corps). The
community's reluctance seemingly allows al-Shabaab to choose which
organizations can work in a given area, regardless of the local
community's opinion. CARE acknowledges that pulling out may empower
al-Shabaab, but believes it has no choice. It believes it cannot
hold the local community hostage and supports the continued
provision of life-saving assistance by other organizations if it
itself cannot operate freely. (All CARE-serviced areas are labeled
humanitarian emergencies by the UN's Food Security Analysis Unit
(FSAU). The consequences of stopping aid would be mass out-migration
(including into Kenya) and/or increased mortality rates.)

7. (SBU) CARE has indicated that al-Shabaab may be seeking to
increase it leverage by seeking to deny assistance to areas where
CARE operates (all of Mudug and Hiran, as well as parts of Gedo,
Middle Shabelle, and Galgaduud regions). By complying, aid agencies
could be unwittingly aiding al-Shabaab. USAID has requested a
thorough analysis of the dynamics in order to determine if such
linkages in fact exist.

Uncertainties in Mogadishu

8. (SBU) Ongoing fighting in Mogadishu and uncertainties in the
wake of the Ethiopian government's announcement that it will
withdraw its troops by year's end signal greater volatility in the
humanitarian arena. Humanitarian agencies are predicting a fight
for Mogadishu which may leave Mogadishu port inaccessible for the
transit of humanitarian goods. USAID/OFDA is finalizing a USD 1
million contribution to WFP's special operations, which is
rehabilitating the road from El Ma'an beach port (north of
Mogadishu) to ensure continued humanitarian access. Work has begun
and will take four to six weeks to complete. If fighting in
Mogadishu intensifies, ongoing feeding programs (a daily cooked meal
for 80,000 of Mogadishu's poorest) could be jeopardized, which would
force more Somalis from Mogadishu. Current planning for this
possible scenario, however, envisions that access will be halted for
a matter of weeks rather than months into and within Mogadishu.

Hargeisa Bombing Impact

9. (U) The October 29 suicide bombings in Hargeisa and Bossasso
have constrained humanitarian operations there. With danger
increasing in the South/Central regions, many agencies had moved
staff to northern Somalia and in some cases temporarily relocated
entire programs to Somaliland. With the bombings, most expatriate
staff in Hargeisa and Bossaso have been evacuated from Somalia and
the UN has increased the security level to Phase IV in Hargeisa,
which constricts the number and type of staff as well as the
programming in these areas.

We Remain Flexible
in Programming:
But Abuse is
a Possibility

10. (U) USAID has been very flexible in Somalia. It provides
no-cost extensions to programs slowed by the operating environment
and allows organizations to re-locate activities to safer areas. In
some cases, organizations are expanding into new sectors as
activities elsewhere become constrained.

11. (SBU) Humanitarian actors are being subject to competing

NAIROBI 00002769 003 OF 004

demands. On the one hand, there is the imperative to respond to a
grave humanitarian crisis. On the other hand, the constrained
operating environment means they must be prepared for the possible
misuse and diversion of aid resources, especially to al-Shabaab, a
USG-designated terrorist organization. USAID makes every effort to
ensure that its partners exercise due diligence, in order to avoid
resources flowing to al-Shabaab. We recognize, however, that the
current operating environment complicates that task, and are
proceeding to obtain the necessary waivers for some assistance on
humanitarian grounds.

12. (SBU) Nowhere is this potential for abuse higher than with food
aid, as it represents one the most significant resources going into
the country. In the past, Somali actors have used this resource to
further their political and military objectives. Thus far,
significant improvements in the logistics of food aid transport and
distributions reduce opportunities for diversion. Currently, USAID
believes the biggest vulnerability for diversion is
post-distribution, through such means as local groups "taxing"
beneficiaries for a portion of their food.

Worst Case Scenario:
But Famine Unlikely

13. (SBU) A significant surge in fighting, leading to reduced
access for our partners, could lead to greater misuse of food aid
(and possibly denial of food aid by Somali groups for political or
military reasons). In such a situation, it will be difficult to
avoid politicizing humanitarian assistance, as continuation of aid
when some of it is being diverted may feed the conflict. By the same
token, stopping assistance in a given area may be perceived as
favoring one party to the conflict over another, and could lead to
aid staff being targeted in retaliation. Should international staff
be targeted in sufficient numbers, the entire humanitarian operation
in Somalia or at least in certain regions may grind to a halt.

14. (U) USAID has had numerous conversations with Somalia food
security analysts, including the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning
Systems (FEWS) who continue to maintain that as bad as the situation
is, it is not, nor will it likely become, a famine as defined by
FSAU. FSAU maintains a food security classification system (an
innovative scale based on multiple criteria impacting food security
which are gathered twice annually following each rainy season and
updated during the year with additional information on prices,
malnutrition, displacement, and other statistics) that tracks these
indicators and would raise an early alarm. Further, FSAU and FEWS
have a number of staff throughout Somalia monitoring nutrition,
market prices, and other information in order to provide early
warning of further rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation
so that a timely response may be mounted.

15. (U) Significant differences exist between the current situation
and the famine of the early '90s, and we are likely to witness mass
out-migration to Kenya before we will see mass starvation. Normally,
increased mortality would be the result of disease outbreaks in
populations already weakened by malnutrition. Despite the worsening
situation, all indicators are still significantly below those that
obtained during Somalia's last famine. High levels of remittances,
increased communications such as mobile phones and the Internet,
good transport options, and the continued ability of clans to travel
through other clan-controlled areas are all factors which should
allow populations to better cope and if necessary, to migrate out
before a famine begins.

Uncertain Future

16. (SBU) If conditions in Somalia worsen and al-Shabaab continues
to extend its reach, aid agencies may find it increasingly difficult
to avoid the numerous political landmines which dot the landscape.
Even in the current environment, it is difficult for them to not be
seen as partisan by some Somali factions. Further complicating our
partners' work are the high levels of insecurity. If more
organizations close as a result of the increasingly difficult
operating environment, the reduced number of providers may foster a
perception that certain groups or clans are receiving preferential
treatment, which could in turn lead to increased insecurity for
humanitarian staff. In anticipation of such a possibility, we are
having discussions with humanitarian organizations about tripwires

NAIROBI 00002769 004 OF 004

that could cause them to suspend or halt their activities.

17. (SBU) With the closure of CARE, the largest NGO in Somalia, our
capacity to respond will shrink and a steadily worsening environment
means it is in real jeopardy of shrinking further. As circumstances
deteriorate, each organization will have to decide what level of
risk it is willing to impose on its staff and what level of
accountability it is able to tolerate. USAID will continue to
assist partners as they struggle with the enormous challenges posed
by the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.

© Scoop Media

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