UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Mogadishu on Tuesday to begin a brief visit to Somalia, a country wracked by long-standing armed conflict and climate disasters.
Guterres was given a red carpet welcome at the capital’s airport by Somalia’s Foreign Minister Abshir Omar Huroos, who posted pictures of the event on Twitter.
Somalia has tightened security on Mogadishu for travel, with most roads closed and public transport restricted.
Guterres’ visit comes at a time when the country is in the grip of a devastating drought that has pushed many people to the brink of famine, while the government also embarks on a major offensive to quell a bloody Islamist insurgency.
The UN chief, who previously visited Somalia in March 2017, is due to hold talks with political leaders and visit a camp for internally displaced people, according to local media reports.
The United Nations has launched an appeal for $2.6 billion in humanitarian aid for the troubled Horn of Africa nation, but it is currently only 13 percent funded.
Five consecutive failed rainy seasons in Somalia as well as parts of Kenya and Ethiopia have caused the worst drought in four decades, wiping out livestock and crops and driving at least 1.7 million from their homes in search of food and water forced people.
While Somalia has not reached the threshold of famine, the United Nations says nearly half the population will need humanitarian aid this year, with 8.3 million affected by drought.
“The crisis is not over yet – the needs are still high and urgent,” Adam Abdelmoulah, the UN Resident Coordinator for Somalia, said in Geneva last week.
“Some of the most affected areas are facing the risk of famine.”
Seasonal rains triggered floods in March that killed 21 people and displaced more than 100,000, he warned, warning that the rain was not enough to improve the food security outlook for many.
– Offensive against Al-Shabaab –
In 2011 there was a famine in Somalia that killed 260,000 people, more than half of whom were children under the age of six, partly because the international community did not act fast enough, according to the United Nations.
A UN and Somali government report released in March said the drought could have caused 43,000 “excess deaths” last year, with children under the age of five making up half the victims.
One of the poorest countries on the planet, Somalia has been wracked by decades of civil war, political violence and a bloody insurgency by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.
President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud declared an “all-out war” against Islamist militants last year and sent troops in September to support an insurgency against al-Shabaab launched by local clan militias in central Somalia.
In recent months, the army and militias known as “Makawisli” have swapped territory in an operation supported by an African Union force known as ATMIS and US airstrikes.
The government claimed late last month that more than 3,000 al-Shabaab fighters have been killed since launching the offensive.
It also said in a statement released by the information ministry that 70 towns and villages had been “liberated” from al-Shabaab, which has been fighting the fragile central government for more than 15 years.
It was not possible to independently verify the claims.
Al-Shabaab has often retaliated against the offensive with bloody attacks, underscoring its steadfastness in continuing to pursue civilian, political and military targets despite government progress.
In a report to the UN Security Council in February, Guterres said 2022 was the deadliest year for civilians in Somalia since 2017, largely as a result of al-Shabaab attacks.