Aid agencies operating in Somalia say they need more money but that some donors are holding back, concerned at where resources might end up in areas too dangerous for international staff.
"Some of the largest donors in 2008 have given much less or almost no support so far this year," said Kiki Gbeho, head of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Somalia.
Large parts of Islamist rebel-dominated southern and central Somalia are classified as just below the worst "famine" level on a five-point scale used by food security analysts. Aid planners are considering where needy people might move, in or out of the country, and where aid could be delivered securely.
As of November 2009, total available humanitarian funding for Somalia stands at US$571 million, compared with $615 million in 2008 (according to the OCHA-managed Financial Tracking System). However, this masks the fact that over $215 million was carried over from unspent or late 2008 monies.
Gbeho warned that if the funding situation did not improve soon, it could have a negative impact on the whole region, as fleeing Somalis sought relief not only within safer areas of Somalia as but in neighbouring countries too.
"According to one worst-case scenario, an additional 283,000 Somalis could flee to neighbouring countries and would require assistance," Gbeho said. "Already, 530,000 Somali refugees live in several countries in the region."
The lukewarm and unpredictable donor response, senior aid workers and observers told IRIN, is due at least in part to perceptions that aid operations cannot be properly supervised in areas controlled by armed groups, including Al-Shabab, which might steal or "tax" the aid or benefit indirectly. Some donors feel it is hard to provide the "due diligence" their taxpayers deserve and doubt "remote control" management and monitoring techniques. This comes on top of budget pressures due to the global financial crisis, observers say.
The World Food Programme is conducting an internal investigation in response to allegations that some of its relief supplies are being diverted away from their intended beneficiaries.
Britain's Department for International Development (DFID), is "very concerned about allegations of humanitarian food aid being sold for profit in Somalia. Any future contributions to the WFP will be in the light of the findings of the investigation into the alleged misuse of aid," according to a spokesman.
"We are committed to helping the people of Somalia, and this year alone we will provide £23 million to tackle hunger, and provide healthcare and education," he said.
"Donor countries have to be careful with the money they give to Somalia," a western diplomat, who requested anonymity, said. "There is a problem with lack of proper monitoring inside the country, due to the prevailing security situation... There is also the fear in some quarters that some of the money is ending up in the wrong hands."
Aid agencies argue that even in dangerous areas, brave and dedicated local staff, creative partnerships and networks involving local NGOs and community leadership can and do deliver successful life-saving programmes. A combination of appropriate monitoring techniques, they say, offers fully credible accountability.
According to OCHA, 42 humanitarian aid workers have been killed since January 2008 and 10 remain in captivity, and very few international staff stay continuously in south-central Somalia -while some areas are off-limits even to national staff.
Alun McDonald of Oxfam, while admitting that access was a problem, given the lack of security and functioning government, said: "But just because it's difficult, that's not an excuse to stop aid when 3.6 million people need assistance. We stress to donors that we work with trusted and long-term local partners, with regular monitoring visits from Oxfam staff, and we are confident that aid is being delivered appropriately," he added.
"We can respond, despite the situation," insisted another aid official. Unrealistic conditions being floated by some donors to try to limit risk would make it impossible even to get "from point A to point B" in areas controlled by militants, the official added.
US humanitarian funding has been tangled much of the year in anti-terrorism legislation, affecting its ability to contribute food and cash. Nevertheless it has still been the largest humanitarian donor in 2009. A US State Department spokesperson told IRIN an ongoing review on US aid to Somalia "will include ensuring compliance with US laws designed to prevent potential support to terrorists".
Private non-governmental donations have become the second biggest source of donations reported to the FTS (see BOX). Aid officials say concerns about accountability have influenced donors, but concerns have not been publicly articulated.
The fact that some channels of funding have not diminished in 2009, such as governance support to the fledgling TFG, assistance to the African Union's peacekeeping force and even in direct weapons transfers to the government, has left some NGOs nonplussed. "Transferring guns seems a lot more risky than food and water," commented one aid worker.
UN Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe in late October hinted at a chicken and egg situation when he said: "I would guess that we will be asking for more money and more assistance in the months ahead. Clearly they're going to need it both for security and also for the social services the government needs to provide. One of the difficulties about
Somalia, of course, is that without the aid and the assistance for real development aid, it's very hard for the government to show what it's doing."
Meanwhile, further narrowing humanitarian space, local media reported this week a spokesperson for Al-Shabab has announced that aid carrying the US flag would be banned in areas under its control.
Some argue that not funding humanitarian operations would strengthen, not weaken, armed militant groups. In spite of the risk of aid diversion, donors must not reduce their levels of humanitarian assistance, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on the rights of displaced people urged last month. Walter Kälin told journalists: "This would not only mean punishing the most vulnerable among already destitute communities, but also playing into the hands of radical elements who could easily exploit the situation."
Aid agencies are putting the finishing touches on the consolidated humanitarian appeal for 2010, for release early December. A well-placed official said funding will be "even more tricky next year".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions