Somali-based extremist group al-Shabaab has abducted five World Health Organization (WHO) employees working in the country, security officials said. The report comes as aid workers responding to the humanitarian crisis in some parts of the continent battle security risks.
Col. Deeq Abdi Khaliif, commander of the Somali army in the town of Luuq, told Voice of America (VOA) the extremists broke into the aid workers’ home early on April 2 and took them. The men lived in Maganey village, close to Luuq.
“We are now pursuing them to free the abducted men,” Khaliif told VOA’s Somali Service.
The five Somali men worked for the World Health Organization’s polio vaccination program. Al-Shabaab has not allowed any vaccinations in the regions under its control and previously threatened the aid workers because of their work, Khaliif said.
Somalia faces a humanitarian crisis that has left 5.5 million people suffering from food insecurity. The crisis is worse in the areas controlled by al-Shabaab, an extremist group that has plagued the country since 2006. The insecurity has blocked aid from reaching its territory and places at risk aid workers who try to help. IRIN, a humanitarian news agency, said 16 aid workers died in Somalia last year.
South Sudan also faces a similar crisis, with more than 4 million people severely food insecure. The country descended into civil war in 2013 when fighting broke out between supporters of the country’s president and vice president. The conflict has led to accusations of civilian assaults and targeted killing by several government militias and other armed factions. The fighting has multiplied the challenges aid workers face.
Samaritan’s Purse last month said armed rebels released eight of its South Sudanese staff in the country’s Mayendit region. Another nonprofit based in South Sudan confirmed last month that attackers killed six of its aid workers, the highest casualty count from a single attack. About 79 aid workers have been killed in the country since the war began, according to the United Nations.
Deepmala Mahla, Mercy Corps country director for South Sudan, said it sometimes takes the organization’s teams two days to reach project sites in areas in dire need of aid. The conflict also has made it impossible to reach some regions and frequently leaves their centers vulnerable to attacks.
“Many humanitarian organizations’ facilities and compounds have been looted,” Mahla said. “Unfortunately it’s not decreasing or stopping.”
Mahla called on governments in the famine-hit countries to provide immediate and safe humanitarian access for the needs of their own people: “We want to help save lives, and for that we need access to the people.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Onize Ohikere writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)