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Global Policy Forum

August 16, 2011

By Jeffrey Gettleman

New York Times

August 16, 2011

The UN World Food Program (WFP) is investigating allegations that corrupt contractors have stolen thousands of sacks of grain and other supplies intended for Somalian famine victims.  Food theft has occurred in Somalia since the early 90s, causing aid workers to coin the term “traditional distribution” to describe when food aid is stolen to be sold on the black market.  Though this New York Times article largely criticizes al-Shabab and the new Somalian transitional government for active participation (and failed prevention) in this large scale food theft, this is only a part of the picture. The root causes of the famine are largely geopolitical, as the Somali people have been made vulnerable to exhausted food resources due to continuous military and political interventions in the region (particularly by Ethiopia, the AU, and the US).

Beyond freelance gunmen, Islamist militants, cholera, malaria, measles and the staggering needs of hundreds of thousands of starving children, aid agencies scrambling to address Somalia’s famine now may have another problem to reckon with: the wholesale theft of food aid.

As it scales up its operations in Somalia, the United Nations World Food Program is investigating allegations that thousands of sacks of grain and other supplies intended for famine victims have been stolen by unscrupulous businessmen and then sold on the open market for a profit.

“We’re looking into this,” Greg Barrow, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said Tuesday.

He said the World Food Program was first alerted several months ago to the possibility of stolen food aid in the capital, Mogadishu, but added that he did not want to provide specifics, in the event that the allegations were baseless.

Few experienced aid workers believe that all, or even close to all, of the emergency food in Somalia reaches the people it was intended for. Because much of Somalia has been mired in chaos and violence for the past 20 years, large aid organizations tend not to base their own staff members there and instead appoint local groups to monitor aid deliveries, worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year…Read more.