Somalia: Al-Shabaab, UN officials accused of aid grab

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Contractors, local UN workers and Islamist militants in Somalia have been accused of diverting food aid meant for refugees and destitute Somalis for their own consumption, a United Nations study has revealed. The report is due to be officially presented to the UN Security Council on 16 March.

The UN document says food aid is diverted to a web of distributors, transporters and armed groups, with some local UN workers also taking a cut in the profits, journalists at the UN office have reported. Extracts of the report have been quoted by the New York Times and other news agencies.

Claims that food aid was being diverted first surfaced in 2009, and as a result, the U.S. reduced funding to Somalia, fearing that aid was falling into the hands of the al-Qaeda linked Islamist group al- Shabab.

According to the findings, World Food Program (WFP) contracts are awarded to a few influential individuals who operate cartels that sell the food illegally. Just three contractors receive the vast majority of WFP transportation contracts, making them some of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in Somalia.

The UN secretary general’s special representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, told reporters that the greatest need in Somalia was a stable and internationally supported government.

“With a… government we would avoid this loss [of aid], not only of 50% but of 5%. We have to go to the root cause of the problem, which is [the] lack of a supported government. We have a government – why don’t we support it?” Abdallah was quoted as saying.

In February, al-Shabab banned the food agency from operating in Somalia, claiming the WFP was distributing stale food, and affecting local production of food.

WFP announced a suspension of its work in the southern part of the country because of attacks and extortion by local militants. Transporters are reported to have to navigate roadblocks manned by various militias and bandits.

WFP says previous internal investigations have failed to find proof of widespread abuse but the organization has vowed to examine the new allegations of diversion of food aid, and the existence of a de facto cartel.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. Years of fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people. Relations with neighbors have been soured by its territorial claims on Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Somalia is arguably Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis: a third of the population is dependent on food aid.

A UN-backed transitional government emerged in 2004 but has failed to make significant changes due to incessant attacks from al-Shabab extremists.

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