US Aids Tsunami Victims in Somalia

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The United States has announced a $1 million aid package to help meet the needs of Somali victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Though dwarfed by the scale of the disaster in South and South-East Asia, Somalia was nonetheless badly affected by the tidal waves generated by a Dec. 26 earthquake some 5,000 kilometers away.

About 200 people died and an estimated 54,000 people have been affected, according to the United Nations. Property worth $24 million was destroyed.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya William M. Bellamy said Tuesday the money will be distributed through U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations and will provide assistance with shelter material, household kits, safe drinking water and emergency medical supplies.

"The tsunami disaster came at a time when 1.2 million people across Somalia are already suffering the effects of an ongoing humanitarian emergency caused by civil strife, drought and food insecurity," Bellamy said.

One of the world's poorest nations, Somalia has had no central authority for 14 years.

There were fears that the Horn of Africa country would be forgotten because of post-tsunami aid focus on much harder-hit nations such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The flow of assistance to Somali victims has been slow because aid agencies initially underestimated its impact, said Somalia's presidential spokesman Yusuf Mohamed Ismail.

"The humanitarian assistance coordination is now better," he said.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the U.S. is the main humanitarian donor in Somalia, providing 50 percent of the World Food Program's commodities in the country.

The WFP said it had three teams in place in the tsunami-hit areas and was currently meeting the needs of more than 30,000 of the most vulnerable people.

The agency is also operating humanitarian flights from the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa to Hafun, an affected island about 40 kilometers off Somalia's mainland.

The embassy said an inter-agency assessment was being carried out along Somalia's coast, to identify any gaps in the assistance and also specify mid- to long-term recovery needs.

Reporters who traveled to Somalia with a South African church delegation said insecurity and a rugged landscape were complicating the distribution of humanitarian aid.

U.N. agencies were unable to fly over certain parts of Somalia because of the risk of anti-aircraft fire from militia groups.

South African Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, who visited victims, called on African governments to take a stronger interest in helping the people of Somalia, where "poverty, drought and civil unrest have compounded the problem."

He also called on donors to help victims re-establish the devastated fishing industry - the area's main source of livelihood - and called for an early warning system to avoid a repeat of the tragedy in the future.

Members of parliament in a four-month-old transitional Somali government, which was set up and is currently located in Kenya, visited their country this week to access the possibilities of establishing a central government in the capital Mogadishu.

The phased return is scheduled to begin on Feb. 21, but it remains to be seen whether the government will set up in Mogadishu, which remains divided between heavily-armed factions, or in another, safer location.

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