Tsunami Aid Starts Flowing Into Somalia

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Humanitarian assistance has started flowing into Somalia's tsunami-hit areas after initial reluctance by relief agencies to venture into the unstable Horn of Africa nation, the Somali presidential spokesman has confirmed.

Yusuf Mohamed Ismail said by phone that the situation in northeastern Somalia, the area worst affected by the disaster, remained "critical" because aid agencies had initially underestimated the devastation caused by the earthquake-triggered tidal waves, which killed at least 160,000 people in countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

The cost to Somalia was relatively small - officials said at least 300 people were killed and property worth $24 million was destroyed - but there were fears that the country would be forgotten because of the focus on harder-hit Asian nations.

"Humanitarian coordination is now smooth. We are getting promises of more assistance, especially from the United Nations agencies," Ismail said.

In recent days, Somalia's government held a strategy meeting with the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), which resulted in promises of increased assistance to the tsunami victims.

The meeting also drew up emergency and post-emergency plans to address the effects of other recent calamities, including drought and heavy rains that resulted in the death of livestock.

Ismail said the area most affected was in Puntland, a region that has had a functioning administration since 1998 -- unlike most of the war-torn country, which has had no central government for 14 years.

Because Puntland enjoys good security, Ismail said, humanitarian efforts will not be hindered there.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) is operating humanitarian flights to Hafun, an affected Indian Ocean island about 42 kilometers off the Somali mainland.

WFP spokeswoman Laura Melo said the agency this week shipped 1,300 tons of food from the Kenyan port of Mombassa to assist up to 30,000 people on the poverty-stricken island.

In other efforts, the U.N. Children's Fund has been vaccinating children and women of childbearing age against tetanus.

Fund representative Bob McCarthy said an estimated 4,000 people in northeastern Somalia would have to relocate because the disaster had changed the coastline.

"The geographical outline of Somalia's northeastern coastline was altered by the tsunami, preventing its former residents from returning home in the foreseeable future," McCarthy said. "The community must permanently relocate to higher ground to avoid being flooded every time sea levels rise."

Mohamed Said, the mayor of Hafun, said the international community has not yet given Somalia tsunami victims the attention they need.

"The world is helping the tsunami victims generously, but not those who live outside areas of tourist attraction," he said, adding that the region faced severe food

Another humanitarian agency, Medecins Sans Frontieres, said it would not be helping tsunami victims in Somalia because the situation there was not as serious as in Asia.

"We felt that the need for tsunami victims is not as much as in other areas of Asia where we are proving relief services," said Wyger Wentholt, MSF spokesman in Nairobi.

"We'd rather concentrate where our services are needed most."

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