U.N. Pushes For Humanitarian Aid To Somalia
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the official has a difficult pitch here in Washington.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Doing aid work in Somalia is not easy, but now there's a new complication: The al-Shabab militia, which the U.S. says has links to al-Qaida. The group recently claimed responsibility for deadly bombings in Uganda, and that has made the U.N. aid coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden's job, all the more difficult.
MARK BOWDEN: My challenge as humanitarian coordinator is to try to get people to see that it's not the people of Somalia that are involved in these bombings, and that they still deserve assistance.
KELEMEN: In an interview, Bowden argues that it is still possible to do aid programs in Somalia, even though the U.N.'s World Food Programme had to suspend its work in southern Somalia where the al-Shabab is active.
BOWDEN: One of the very interesting things about Somalia is that even in the rebel-held areas, the U.N. agencies - UNICEF and WHO - are able to undertake major mass vaccination campaigns. And it's one of the countries that has still managed to stay polio-free, despite polio coming back in some other parts of Africa itself.
KELEMEN: State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made clear today that the U.N. still needs to do more to reassure Americans that their taxpayer dollars are only helping those in need.
CROWLEY: Those concerns are being discussed, but, you know, at the present time, they are still suspended.
KELEMEN: The U.N.'s Mark Bowden says he's been encouraged by what he's hearing in meetings with State Department and White House officials, though. He says the U.S. has always been one of the biggest donors to Somalia, and cutting off aid now would only aggravate the conflict.
BOWDEN: And I think that will be the biggest tragedy for Somalia, for people who've gone through 18 years of war - who are trying themselves to find ways out of it - to be cut off from the rest of the world and be denied their real right to assistance and help when they need it, would be a fatal blow to Somalia.
KELEMEN: While the Obama administration is scaling back humanitarian aid, it is considering doing more to help a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia. That word came this week from the head of the U.S. Africa Command, William Ward.
WILLIAM WARD: We are working very closely with their logistics, their training, their transportation, information, that they would use to be more effective in what they do. And we continue looking to ways based on what they ask us to enhance those efforts, and we would certainly see that continuing.
KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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