Somalia famine aid stolen, U.N. investigating

By Katharine Houreld

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Aug. 15 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

The AP could not verify the official's claims. WFP said that it rejected the scale of diversions alleged by the official.

At one of the sites for stolen food aid — the former water agency building at a location called "Kilometer Five" — about a dozen corrugated iron sheds are stacked with sacks of food aid. Outside, women sell food from open 110-pound (50-kilogram) sacks, and traders load the food onto carts or vehicles under the indifferent eyes of local officials.

Stolen food aid is the main reason the U.S. military become involved in the country's 1992 famine, an intervention that ended shortly after the military battle known as Black Hawk Down. There are no indications the military plans to get involved in this year's famine relief efforts.

The WFP emphasized that it has "strong controls ... in place" in Somalia, where it cited risks in delivering food in a "dangerous, lawless, and conflict-ridden environment."

WFP said it was "confident the vast majority of humanitarian food is reaching starving people in Mogadishu," adding that AP reports of "thousands" of bags of stolen food would equal less than 1 percent of one month's distribution for Somalia.

Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said the government does not believe food aid is being stolen on a large scale, but if such reports come to light, the government "will do everything in our power" to bring action in a military court.

The AP investigation also found evidence that WFP is relying on a contractor blamed for diverting large amounts of food aid in a 2010 U.N. report.

Eight Somali businessmen said they bought food from the contractor, Abdulqadir Mohamed Nur, who is known as Enow. His wife heads Saacid, a powerful Somali aid agency that WFP uses to distribute hot food. The official with extensive knowledge of the food trade said at some Saacid sites, it appeared that less than half the amount of food supplied was being prepared.

Attempts to reach Enow or his wife for comment were not successful.

Businessmen said Enow had several warehouses around the city where he sold food from, including a site behind the Nasa Hablod hotel at a roundabout called "Kilometer Four."

Three businessman described buying food directly from the port and one said he paid directly into Enow's Dahabshiel account, a money transfer system widely used in Somalia. WFP has no foreign staff at the port to check on stock levels or which trucks are picking it up; it relies on Somali staff and an unidentified independent monitor to check on sites.

The men said they would buy in bulk for $20 per sack and sell at between $23 and $25 — a week's salary for a Somali policeman or soldier.

Until last week, there were daily battles in the capital between Islamic insurgents and government forces supported by African Union peacekeepers. Suicide bombers and snipers prowled the city.

WFP does not serve and prepare the food itself. After the deaths of 14 employees, WFP rarely allows its staff outside the AU's heavily fortified main base at the airport. It relies on a network of Somali aid agencies to distribute its food.

Gundel, the consultant, said aid agencies hadn't learned many lessons from the 1992 famine, when hundreds of thousands died and aid shipments were systematically looted, leading to the U.S. military intervention.

"People need to know the history here," he said. "They have to make sure the right infrastructure is in place before they start giving out aid. If you are bringing food into Somalia it will always be a bone of contention."

In the short term, he said, aid agencies should diversify their distribution networks, conduct frequent random spot checks on partners, and organize in communities where they work — but before an emergency occurs. "It's going to be very, very hard to do now," he added.

At the Badbado camp, Ali Said Nur said he was also a victim of food thefts. He said he twice received two sacks of maize, but each time was forced to give one to the camp leader.

"You don't have a choice. You have to simply give without an argument to be able to stay here," he said.

Family crops, stock seized

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As Somalia's drought and famine worsened in recent months, the al-Shabab militia in the south seized families' crops and stock and imposed taxes that made it almost impossible to survive, according to a report released Monday by Human Rights Watch.

It banned international humanitarian agencies as "infidels" and told the desperate population to depend on God instead. And it stopped many hungry people from fleeing the country for survival.

"I think they wanted the people to die," one refugee from the al Shabab-controlled Sakoh district told researchers with the rights group in an April interview in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing the country.

"The impact of al-Shabab's total prohibitions on food aid in areas under its control has been devastating for affected communities," the report. said

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