GENEVA >>The U.N. World Food Program insisted today 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.
WFP said it is bringing 5,000 tons a month of food 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 to the AP that up to half of the recent food shipments may have been stolen.
WFP officials disputed that figure today. Lauren Landis, the new director of WFP’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 told AP, without elaborating further.
She said theft worries are common with WFP operations in Somalia and around the world.
However, WFP 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.
Families at a large, government-run camp where aid groups distribute food told the AP they were often forced to hand back the aid after journalists had taken photos of them with it. In Mogadishu markets, vast piles of food are for sale with stamps on them from the WFP, the U.S. government USAID agency, the Japanese government and the Kuwaiti government. The AP 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.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said the mortality rate among young children at a camp for Somali refugees in Ethiopia has reached alarming levels, with an average of 10 children under five dying every day since the Kobe camp in southeast Ethiopia opened in June.
The camp holds 25,000 refugees. A suspected measles outbreak combined with acute malnutrition is thought to be the cause of deaths, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.