In Somalia Famine Response, Reports of Food Aid Diversion

People displaced by the severe drought in the Horn of Africa receive liters of water at Dolo Ado camp in Ethiopia. Photo by: Cate Turton / DfID / CC BY

A U.N. aid agency and Somalia’s transitional government said, in separate statements, they are investigating allegations of food aid diversion in the drought-stricken country. Both, however, has rejected the scale of theft described in a recent news report.

The World Food Program said it has been investigating reports of theft and reselling of food aid meant for Somali drought victims. WFP added that it strongly condemned the theft of “even the smallest amount of food from starving and vulnerable Somalis.” But the agency has rejected the scale of aid diversion reported by The Associated Press, the news agency says.

In a news report dated Aug. 15, The Associated Press says it found through an investigation that sacks of food aid marked with logos of WFP, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Kuwaiti government and Japan were being sold in markets in Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu. The news agency also quoted a Mogadishu official who said he believes approximately half of food aid donated to drought-stricken countries is being diverted from its intended beneficiaries.

The official requested anonymity, The Associated Press says, adding that it could not immediately verify the official’s estimate.

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government also rejected the scale of aid diversion alleged by the Mogadishu official.

“The TFG insists that there is no evidence to support the allegation concerning the scale of the alleged diversion, which [The Associated Press] reported it today,” the government said in a statement released Aug. 15.

The TFG added that it has a zero tolerance policy on food aid diversion, saying that it is investigating the report and is committed to “bringing those responsible to justice.” The government further maintained the report “should not be used as an excuse to slow down aid delivery as that would condemn even more people to death from starvation.”

There have been previous reports of aid diversion in Somalia, which WFP has described as one of the riskiest places for humanitarian aid operations. The agency halted in 2010 its contracts with three Somalia businessmen who were accused of channeling food aid to Somali rebels.

Amid the current allegations of food aid diversion, however, WFP said it does not plan to suspend its operations in Somalia.

“The scale and intensity of the humanitarian crisis simply does not allow for a suspension of food assistance,” the agency said in a statement, as quoted by Humanosphere.

New appeals and aid pledges

Reports of the food aid diversion come as an international relief group is urging African countries to scale up their response to the crisis troubling their eastern neighbors.

“African citizens have already rallied to the cause and made significant contributions. But now we need African governments to follow their lead,” Oxfam Great Britain’s Irungu Houghton said, according to Sacramento News. “Most are yet to make a decent contribution and show the true meaning of African solutions to African problems.”

Oxfam GB said it expects Africa to raise some $50 million through an initiative launched by the organization to prompt more donations from the continent’s governments and citizens.

Meanwhile, China has announced a $55 million pledge in response to the worsening crisis in the Horn of Africa. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced the aid package following a meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who visited Beijing, the Voice of America reports.

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.