Aid worker kidnappings soar in famine-threatened Somalia


Al-Shebaab militants parade new recruits after arriving in Mogadishu from their training camp south of the capital on October 21, 2010. The US has assisted in a special forces air strike in Somalia.

NAIROBI - Kidnapping of aid workers and extortion at checkpoints are on the rise in Somalia, the United Nations said on Thursday, hindering efforts to prevent the country slipping into renewed famine.

In the first 27 days of April, 13 humanitarian workers were abducted, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in an update, the highest monthly figure since 2011.

"The affected personnel are all frontline responders," it said, without giving further details.

Four aid workers carrying out vaccinations were kidnapped by al-Shabaab jihadist militants, who are fighting to topple the government, in early April, according to media reports.

The UN is racing to avoid a repeat of the 2011 famine in the drought-hit Horn of African nation when more than 250,000 people died of starvation.

READ: Famine fuels resurgence of Somali piracy: US general

An estimated 2.9-million people in Somalia are facing famine, along with 17 million in northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, the United Nations says.

There were more than 30 violent incidents in Somalia, such as attacks and killings, affecting humanitarian organisations in April, almost equal to the total for the first three months of 2017, the UN said.

Looting and rowdy crowds disrupting aid distributions have led to 12 deaths so far in 2017, it said, without giving details.

"It's mainly to do with people being hungry and differences of opinion over who should receive what," Tapiwa Gomo, a spokesman for UN OCHA in Somalia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

More than 620,000 people have left their homes because of the drought since November, the UN said, slowing down farmers' land preparation as the rainy season starts.

Road blocks, conflict and extortions at checkpoints are restricting travel in most of southern and central Somalia, it said, with passengers being raped, assaulted and robbed.

Convoys of up to 60 commercial and aid trucks have been stranded for more than a week after local authorities demanded "high amounts of unjustified extortions", it said.

"Over 40 static 'illegal taxation' checkpoints have been set up along the Mogadishu-Baidoa-Dollow access road," it said, referring to the route from the capital city to two major towns.

These checkpoints are driving up the cost of delivering aid and consumer prices in drought-stricken areas, it said. 

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