Every time I sit down to write a post about the crisis in the Horn of Africa, it seems like the situation couldn’t get worse. And then, somehow, it does. The Associated Press uncovered an underground market for stolen food aid, which appears to be thriving in Somalia. Yes, that’s right — people may be stealing humanitarian food supplies from organizations like the United Nations, and reselling them in markets.
According to the AP’s sources, “an official in Mogadishu with extensive knowledge of the food trade said he believes a massive amount of aid is being stolen — perhaps up to half of recent aid deliveries.”
The UN’s World Food Program admitted to that they’ve been investigating the possibility of food theft. But they claim that the scale of the alleged theft is implausible. ”The scale of theft suggested would require a logistical operation comparable in size to what we are doing in Mogadishu,” said a WFP spokesman.
The WFP condemned the possibility of theft, even in the smallest proportions. And considering that 12 million Somalis are in desperate need of aid, the WFP can’t afford to lose any of its supplies to theft, no matter the scale. The AP’s allegations are disturbing. Whether they are fully true is another question. It does seem undeniable that aid workers face difficult challenges in providing food access and that they need to do more to protect humanitarian aid. This may be impossible, however, given their limited resources.
According to the Guardian, “[The WFP] noted that it had put in place strengthened and rigorous monitoring and controls for its relief operations, but – given the lack of access to some areas because of security concerns and restrictions – humanitarian supply lines remained highly vulnerable to looting, attacks and diversion by armed groups.”
The situation is grim in Somalia. And it looks like it will get worse before it gets better.
Photo from Oxfam East Africa via flickr.