A top U.S. official who works to get aid to people starving in Somalia said al-Shabab is hampering efforts to part of Somalia.
The official spoke in Minneapolis with Somalis
Nancy Lindborg spoke in a closed-door meeting with about 40 local Somalis working on famine relief to assure the community the U.S. is doing all it can in the region. The meeting took place Wednesday evening at the Minneapolis offices of the American Refugee Committee.
Lindborg is an assistant administrator for USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, a relief agency under the State Department.
The terrorist group al-Shabaab made the situation in Somalia dramatically worse, Lindborg told MPR News.
In 2010, international groups brought aid in before a drought hit four Horn of Africa countries: Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Lindborg says that averted famine in most places — but not in Somalia. al-Shabaab banned many aid groups from the areas it controls in January 2010.
"The Shabaab-held parts of Somalia — that kind of systematic development approach has not been allowed, and therefore they are hit much harder by this drought," Lindborg said. "There have been several airlifts into parts of al-Shabaab-held Somalia. A recent airlift was unfortunately turned down by al Shabaab."
If the ban is lifted, Lindborg says the U.S. is willing to work with al-Shabaab.
"We are taking very seriously the statement that al-Shabaab will enable access," Lindborg said.
"Although there's been extraordinary assistance provided by the diaspora in the most incredible way, we have a famine situation that will require a large scale humanitarian operation to save lives, so to do so we need access. And we are aggressively pursuing every means of providing that assistance that will save lives."
Al-Shabaab will allow aid in eventually, Lindborg said. "I don't think that al-Shabaab will act in a monolithic way. I think there are many within south Somalia who care deeply about their people and will enable humanitarian assistance to go in."
Meeting with Lindborg was Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. He agreed the U.S. needs to be cautious in Somalia but said officials should act quickly.
"I think the US government is prudent. They don't want al-Shabaab to gain from this catastrophic situation. That's understandable," Fahia said. "But there should be a resolution to the al-Shabaab problem and relief organizations being able to go to the most effected places — the epicenter of the drought."
Lindborg said the U-S has committed $80 million in aid to Somali and is about to deploy 19,000 metric tons of food in the country. She said the aid must reach people in need within the next few weeks, or hundreds of thousands more deaths could result.