Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Report says half of Somalia food aid never reaches needy

A new report given to the United Nations Security Council says that half of Somalia's food aid never reaches the needy. The report says that instead of going to the hungry, the food goes to Islamic militants or to corrupt contractors. The report recommends that the United Nations completely stop World Food Programme operations in Somalia, and rebuild it's food distribution from the beginning.

From the New York Times, reporters Jeffrey Gettlerman and Neil MacFarquhar detail what is in the report.

The report, which has not yet been made public but was shown to The New York Times by diplomats, outlines a host of problems so grave that it recommends that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon open an independent investigation into the World Food Program’s Somalia operations. It suggests that the program rebuild the food distribution system — which serves at least 2.5 million people and whose aid was worth about $485 million in 2009 — from scratch to break what it describes as a corrupt cartel of Somali distributors.

In addition to the diversion of food aid, regional Somali authorities are collaborating with pirates who hijack ships along the lawless coast, the report says, and Somali government ministers have auctioned off diplomatic visas for trips to Europe to the highest bidders, some of whom may have been pirates or insurgents.

Possible aid obstructions have been a nettlesome topic for Somalia over the past year and have contributed to delays in aid shipments by the American government and recent suspensions of food programs in some areas by United Nations officials.

The report singles out the World Food Program, the largest aid agency in the crisis-racked country, as particularly flawed.

“Some humanitarian resources, notably food aid, have been diverted to military uses,” the report said. “A handful of Somali contractors for aid agencies have formed a cartel and become important power brokers — some of whom channel their profits, or the aid itself, directly to armed opposition groups.”

These allegations of food aid diversions first surfaced last year. The World Food Program has consistently denied finding any proof of malfeasance and said that its own recent internal audit found no widespread abuse.

The report questions why the World Food Program would steer 80 percent of its transportation contracts for Somalia, worth about $200 million, to three Somali businessmen, especially when they are suspected of connections to Islamist insurgents.

The report says that fraud is pervasive, with about 30 percent of aid skimmed by local partners and local World Food Program personnel, 10 percent by the ground transporters and 5 to 10 percent by the armed group in control of the area. That means as much as half of the food never makes it to the people who desperately need it.

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