Almost eight million people face extreme hunger in Somalia and more than 213,000 are at "imminent risk of dying" after four failed rainy seasons.
One major humanitarian organisation on the ground tells the BBC it cannot deliver food, water or cash to many of those who need it the most. The reason is US counterterror legislation.
Agencies which get money from the US need to ensure their aid does not fall into the hands of "terrorists" and large parts of southern Somalia are controlled by al-Shabab considered a terrorist group by both the US and UK.
One aid official asserted that negotiating an agreement with al-Shabab - without fear of prosecution in the US - was a must if they were going to reach vast numbers of people on the brink of famine.
Two sets of US federal laws prohibit giving money to al-Shabab:
- sanctions administered by the Treasury
- a law criminalising the provision of "material support or resources" to certain "terrorist" groups, enforced by the Justice Department.
Both affect aid agencies because al-Shabab charges fees at its checkpoints and demands larger, formalised payments of "taxes" in return for access to areas it controls. Aid agencies have said paying "taxes" to al-Shabab is effectively banned. Aid groups point to the potential punishments for breaking the rules - fines rising to $1m and up to 20 years' imprisonment.
Franz Celestin, head of the UN Migration Agency in Somalia ultimately believes higher-level negotiations are needed between the UN and al-Shabab to allow agencies blanket access to militant-run areas without the need to pay "taxes".
Easing of the rules for aid agencies, as well as for services used by emigrants to send money home, would be a "game-changer" for hungry Somalis, says Prof Samatar, geography professor at the University of Minnesota and a lawmaker in Somalia's upper house.
"We need to save people from perishing before they can be liberated from al-Shabab," Prof Samatar says. "Fighting terrorists is a long-term project, but saving the lives of starving people is an immediate project."
Somalia drought: Are US terror laws hampering aid effort? - BBC News
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