Despite charges of fraud, UN says it won’t cut aid to famine-stricken Somalia
GENEVA - The UN World Food Program insisted yesterday that it won’t reduce emergency aid shipments to Somalia despite allegations of fraud, saying that though such complaints are frequent, it doesn’t believe there have been big losses.
The agency said it brings 5,000 tons of food per month into the Somali capital of Mogadishu to help the famine-hit nation. Tens of thousands of people each week are fleeing famine in Somalia to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya.
An investigation on the ground by the Associated Press found that sacks of grain, peanut butter snacks, and other food staples meant for starving Somalis are being stolen and sold in Somali markets, raising concerns that the unscrupulous are stealing from international famine-relief efforts. One official in Mogadishu estimated that up to half of the recent food shipments may have been stolen.
World Food officials disputed that figure yesterday. Lauren Landis, the new director of the organization’s Geneva office, said it seems “implausible’’ that a large amount of food is being diverted because it would pose a huge logistical challenge.
“Large losses of food is abnormal, because we know how to do this,’’ Landis said.
She said theft worries are common with World Food operations in Somalia and elsewhere.
However, agency officials rely on third-party monitors on the ground to make sure that aid agencies and the Somali government fight corruption and don’t allow diverted aid to help fuel Somalia’s 20-year civil war. AP journalists went into the markets to see for themselves.
In Mogadishu markets, piles of food are for sale with stamps on them from the World Food Program, the US government USAID agency, and the Japanese and Kuwaiti governments.
Reporters found eight sites where thousands of sacks of food aid were being sold in bulk. Other food aid was also for sale in numerous smaller stores.