The U.S. government has issued new guidelines that will make it easier for aid groups to deliver desperately needed food to famine-stricken parts of Somalia without fear of prosecution, even if some assistance is diverted to extremist groups, the Associated Press reports.
While drought has left some twelve million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia in need of help, official famine zones have only been declared in parts of southern and central Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group that is blamed for exacerbating the crisis. Although international aid groups, wary of less-than-ideal security conditions and fearing prosecution, have until now steered clear of the region, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the U.S. would exempt such groups from certain legal prohibitions that might hinder them from reaching the 2.2 million malnourished or starving Somalis in those areas. Though it is unlikely all Somalis in need will be reached, it is hoped that, with the acquiescence of local authorities, the revised guidelines will enable more U.S. aid to reach those in need.
At the same time, administration officials said charities working in the region must do their best to resist attempts by al-Shabaab to coerce bribes, hoard aid, or collect "taxes" on supplies.
"We're trying to ease the process for these organizations to get the proper licenses," said Toner, who added that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development were now providing grants and contracts to aid groups, which will be protected "in the event their operations may accidentally benefit al-Shabaab."