- The UN's food aid agency WFP today confirmed the authenticity of a leaked report, which concludes that up to half the food aid sent to Somalia is stolen by corrupt contractors. WFP has already frozen cooperation with three Somali transport contractors.
War torn and drought prone Somalia is deeply dependent on food aid, donors willing to pay for the aid and humanitarian agencies daring to take the safety risk of distributing aid to the needing amidst fighting and hostage taking. Operations are expensive and risky, and the main player is WFP.
A new report from the UN's Monitoring Group on Somalia, which is due to be presented to the UN Security Council next week, yesterday was leaked to the press. It contains grave allegations against WFP operations in Somalia, which could imply that up to half of the food aid ends up in the wrong hands.
In a press release sent to afrol News today, WFP confirms the authenticity of the leaked report. The UN agency further confirms its prior knowledge of the report. Finally, WFP does not dismiss the conclusions of the UN report, but nevertheless calls for "an independent investigation into its food assistance operations in Somalia."
The report indeed gives a devastating assessment of UN food aid operations in Somalia in general, but of WFP's disposals in particular. It criticised WFP for leaning too much onto a few powerful individuals, to whom distribution contracts have been awarded. Several of these contractors were said to operate cartels that sell food aid illegally.
The "existence of a de facto cartel," as described in the UN report, has made donated food a sizable source of wealth and power in Somalia. Control over food aid made these contractor cartels "some of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in Somalia", according to leaked parts of the report.
Even worse, WFP food aid and profits from it are said to end up in the hands of armed groups, including Islamist militants and other armed groups undermining the weak Somali government. Profits from the food aid trade were even used to buy arms, the report indicated.
Also embarrassing for WFP, the report indicates that local UN workers also profit from illegal trade in food aid. Corruption charges would hit the generally highly respected UN food agency hard.
Therefore, WFP did not wait long to answer the serious allegations, although the infamous report still is not publically available. "The integrity of our organisation is paramount and we will be reviewing and investigating each and every issue raised by this report," said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, in a statement today. "WFP stands ready to offer full cooperation with any independent inquiry into its work in Somalia," she added.
WFP already had taken steps reacting to the allegations in the report. The UN agency said it would "not engage in any new work with three transport contractors named in a report from the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia, which alleged they were involved in arms-trading."
But Ms Sheeran also asked for an understanding of the WFP's difficult situation in Somalia, a country where 2.5 million persons depend on food aid and where no functional government can protect food aid operations. She explained that "WFP lives every day with the dangerous realities of our Somalia operation and would do everything it could to reach the hungry in Somalia."
In January, WFP also suspended operations across southern Somalia in response to intimidation of its staff and the imposition of a number of unreasonable demands by the armed Islamist group al- Shabab that contravened WFP's rules and regulations for delivering food for the hungry.
Ms Sheeran therefore noted that "vulnerabilities are always present in conflict areas, and many of the issues raised have already been addressed, while other points identified by the UN Monitoring Group conflicted with operational facts and information." WFP was therefore requesting "the opportunity to correct factual issues and inform the group on actions WFP has already taken."
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