Monday, March 22, 2010

New United Nations report says food aid for Somalia not going to the hungry

New York Times: Somalia Food Aid Bypasses Needy, U.N. Study Says
UN Dispatch: Somalia: What Happens When Political and Humanitarian Goals Collide?
BBC Online: Contractors divert Somalia aid, UN report says
BBC Online: UN agency acts on Somali food-aid claims

Major news organizations are reporting that a new United Nations study reveals that food aid to the war-torn country of Somalia is being diverted at an alarming rate. It claims that contracts are awarded to a select group of powerful and influential individuals, and from there the aid is funneled away and resold. The study finds that a number of factors are responsible for the problem, but the root cause is corrupt Somali contractors. The report also suggests that some local UN workers are making money from this illegally sold food.

The history and recent developments of the Somalia conflict are detailed here. The UN-run World Food Program (WFP) is responsible for distributing $485 million in food aid to 2.5 million people annually. It is important to remember that the WFP is strongly apolitical, and delivers food aid regardless of who is in control of a country. It is in this light that they have been working with al-Shabab militants to deliver food.

The report has yet to be brought up for discussion at the Security Council and already its impact has been significant. Some of the report’s authors have received death threats. This is against a backdrop of growing security concerns that caused the United Nations to relocate their regional office in Kenya to New York. As the report was leaked, publicity brought mounting pressure on the United Nations to respond. This resulted in a quick blacklisting of three Somali contractors. The WFP has also responded to the substance of the report by saying that many of the problems outlined within the report have already been dealt with. It claims the reason for the corruption is because food transporters must navigate a variety of roadblocks set up by bandits and members of militias.

Reducing corruption and improving food aid are important goals. People are going hungry, and aid dollars are being wasted. However, it is important that changes to the program do not do more harm that good. Cutting back food aid overall would be tragic, and politicizing humanitarian programs could lead to more suffering. It is hoped that this report will bring shortcomings to light, and will overall improve the amount of food delivered to hungry people.

1) What is an acceptable amount of corruption in humanitarian programs?
2) Should the United Nations work to prevent leaks? Should it make program decisions before a formal presentation of reports?

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