Piracy must not overshadow humanitarian crisis at donor meeting

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BRUSSELS — The issue of piracy must not overshadow the humanitarian emergency faced by over three million people in Somalia, said international agency Oxfam today, as donors to Somalia meet in Brussels.

Today's international meeting, sponsored by the European Union and the United Nations, comes at a critical time when over 3.2 million Somalis are in desperate need of emergency assistance, a 77 percent increase since January 2008. More than one million people have fled their homes in the last two years.

"The piracy issue that has grabbed international headlines is a symptom of deeper issues that have gone unaddressed ever since the collapse of the national government in 1991," said Robert Maletta, Policy advisor for Oxfam. "Without economic opportunities offering alternatives to criminality and without law and order to curb these activities, then the massive economic returns of hijacking ships will continue to drive piracy."

Drought is deepening across the country, devastating people's incomes and leaving the majority with little or no access to clean water. Families are finding it difficult to meet their most basic needs as prices for basic food items are at record high levels—many have doubled since this time last year.

"The plight of the Somali people and ways to alleviate their suffering should be top of the agenda of donor governments in Brussels. The International community must urgently focus their attention on finding ways to assist the millions of people in desperate need," said Maletta.

Beyond aid, Oxfam called on nations to investigate reported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the country, noting that lack of accountability has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Somalia as civilians continue to get caught in the crossfire and are forced to flee from their homes in huge numbers.

Oxfam welcomes the call by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to hold groups involved in piracy to account. "The international community must hold those same standards to groups who violate international humanitarian and human rights laws in the country," said Maletta.

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