Dangerous Conditions

OCHA watched the 2008 Shabaab campaign against Baidoa with trepidation. It coincided with an increase in violence against humanitarian workers across Somalia. According to Amnesty International, at least 40 human rights and humanitarian workers were killed in Somalia in the first nine months of 2008, many of them targeted killings.[6] Many more were injured. UN workers and convoys were especially hard hit: WFP convoys and warehouses alone suffered six gunshot deaths that year.[7]

Kidnappings and abductions of humanitarian workers also became more common, as did attacks by suicide trucks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In June 2008, the head of the UNHCR office in Mogadishu was kidnapped from his home. In July, the national staff head of the UNDP office in Somalia was killed while leaving a mosque after evening prayers. In October, a car bomb at a UN compound in Somaliland killed two UN national staff and injured six others. Amnesty International put the problem plainly:

The attacks on the staff of international and national humanitarian organizations place them in an impossible situation; they are forced to weigh risks to the lives of their staff and local partner organizations against malnutrition, starvation and disease faced by millions of Somalis if their assistance doesn’t arrive.[8]

In Baidoa, the UN took a wait-and-see approach. In late summer 2008, OCHA reported the worst malnutrition situation in Somalia in years, along with record food prices and the addition of more than 100,000 new refugees to the IDP rolls.[9] Toward the end of the year, some 3.2 million Somalis were reported in need of assistance.

But in mid-November 2008, two hand grenades were thrown into the main market in Baidoa. OCHA and the other humanitarian agencies judged the situation too dangerous to remain. They reduced their operations in Baidoa and recalled their international staff to Nairobi.[10] As Humanitarian Coordinator Bowden said at the time, “Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers.”[11]

[6] Amnesty International, Fatal Insecurity: Attacks on Aid Workers and Rights Defenders in Somalia, October 2008.

[8] Amnesty International, Failed Insecurity, p. 17.

[9] OCHA, Somalia Humanitarian Overview, Vol. 1, Issues 6-8, June, July, and August 2008.

[10] OCHA, Somalia Humanitarian Overview, Vol. 1, Issue 11, November-December 15, 2008.

[11] UNDP in Somalia, Press Release, “Two UN Staff Killed in Hargeysa UNDP Compound Attack,” October 29, 2008. See: http://www.so.undp.org/index.php/Press/Two-UN-Staff-killed-in-Hargeysa-UNDP-Compound-Attack.html