Thousands of sacks of food aid intended for starving Somalis have been stolen and are being sold at markets in Mogadishu, an Associated Press investigation has found. On Monday, the United Nations’ World Food Program revealed for the first time that it has been investigating food theft in Somalia for the past two months.
WFP will “suspend any parties found responsible” working within the agency, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at the United Nations in New York, according to Agence France-Presse.
The U.N. estimates that 3.2 million Somalis — nearly half the population — are at risk of starvation due to a severe drought and war.
The AP reports:
In Mogadishu markets, vast piles of food are for sale with stamps on them from the WFP, the U.S. government aid arm USAID, 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. Among the items being sold were Kuwaiti dates and biscuits, corn, grain, and Plumpy’nut — a fortified peanut butter designed for starving children.
The AP also talked to an official in Mogadishu who estimated that up to half of recent aid deliveries, which are distributed by Somali aid agencies once they have arrived in the capital, has been diverted.
WFP rejected that figure as too high, but the U.N. would not provide another estimate.
According to the AP:
International officials have long expected some of the food aid pouring into Somalia to disappear. But the sheer scale of the theft calls into question the aid groups’ ability to reach the starving. It also raises concerns about the ability of aid agencies and the Somali government to fight corruption, and whether diverted aid is fueling Somalia’s 20-year civil war.
In spite of the thefts, the U.N. Security Council today issued another plea to U.N. member states to send more funding for the U.N.’s $2.4 billion Somalia food aid program. The program currently has less than half the funding it needs to feed those starving in Somalia.
WFP warned that the “scale and intensity” of the famine is such that countries must continue to send aid — and failure to do so would lead to “many unnecessary deaths,” PostMedia reports. The agency also claimed it had improved monitoring and control of distribution chains in Somalia following The Associated Press report.