UN wants famine aid deal with al-Qa'ida
International aid agencies should make deals with Islamists linked to al-Qa'ida to deliver aid to starving millions in Somalia, the head of the UN's refugee agency has said.
The "absolutely appalling" suffering in Somalia meant talks must be opened with those involved to bring food to those who need it, according to Antonio Guterres, the UN's high commissioner for refugees.
The drought has left as many as 12 million east Africans in need of urgent help, and is believed to have hit Somalia the hardest.
Thousands are streaming towards the war-ravaged capital, Mogadishu, despite ongoing fighting between the government and the al-Shabaab group.
The insurgents, linked to al-Qa'ida, control almost all of Somalia's centre and south and have refused to allow foreigners to work in their territory.
However, last week al-Shabaab's spokesman said that they would be willing to allow in the aid agencies.
There are concerns, however, that trucking food and water into areas held by rebels would allow them to take control of handouts.
"The UN mission in Somalia is dealing with that, and trying to find a clear answer to the conditions that are necessary for assistance to be delivered in the areas controlled by the group," Mr Guterres told the BBC.
"We have been insisting that we should do everything at the level of international community with all the actors involved in the conflict, to make it possible to deliver massive humanitarian assistance inside Somalia."
Several agencies have appealed for food, water, medicines and shelter.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which represents Britain's biggest aid charities, said last week that existing UN appeals were less than 40pc filled.
It is understood that the DEC's own appeal has so far raised less than £8m (€9m). This is despite Oxfam asking for £50m (€56m) and Save The Children asking for £40m (€45m).
The UN already has people on the ground in areas where the Islamists work, and was looking at how to expand their operations.
"Our staff are in touch with al-Shabaab at a local level, we now need to see what assurances and security guarantees they can give," Mark Bowden, the UN's humanitarian co- ordinator for Somalia said.
Alex Vines, head of the Africa Programme at the London think tank Chatham House, said the chance to use aid to open a working relationship with al-Shabaab outweighed the risk of some shipments going missing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)