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[Dehai-WN] AP: Exclusive: How Somalia famine aid went astray

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2012 23:17:15 +0100

AP Exclusive: How Somalia famine aid went ast

Mar 18, 2012 - 1:55:47 AM

MOGADISHU, Somalia 18, March 2012 (Associated Press)- A large amount of food
sent by the U.N. to the Somali capital during last year's famine never
reached the starving people it was intended for, an Associated Press
investigation has found.

Some of the World Food Program supplies went to the black market, some to
feed livestock. One warehouse full of rations was looted in its entirety by
a Somali government official. And across the city, feeding sites handed out
far less food than records indicate they should have.

The British government estimates between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in
Somalia's famine, and the U.N. has requested $1.5 billion for Somalia this
year, partly to prevent a return of famine.

The World Food Program provides much of Somalia's food aid, and the U.N.
says donations of food and cash saved half a million lives in the second
half of last year. In the chaos of a civil war, with the aid effort's own
personnel at mortal risk merely for being associated with the West, orderly,
corruption-free food distribution could never be guaranteed.

But AP's three-month investigation into sites providing hot meals to
families in government-controlled Mogadishu reveals various shortcomings,
some of which WFP says it is already addressing by changing procedures.

A critical problem was keeping track of supplies: WFP knew how much food was
being shipped to the capital, but not how much was being cooked or how many
people were showing up to eat it.

Barey Muse, a mother of three, illustrated the frustrations. "My children
are hungry but when I go here for food I must return empty-handed," she said
last month, holding two large bowls outside a feeding site called Hodan.

The WFP had to design a flexible program so that families could use the
nearest hot-meal center as they moved between neighborhoods to avoid
fighting. The price of flexibility was less control over theft, officials

The AP, along with a network of seven Somali observers who for their safety
cannot identified, conducted more than 60 visits to 13 of the 21 sites where
hot meals are prepared. From those visits, interviews with aid recipients
and internal reports, it emerges that:

_ Somali aid groups would cook and distribute at least 30 percent more food
when expecting visits by journalists or WFP officials.

_ Some food was trucked directly from an aid agency warehouse to the market
to be sold for profit.

_ WFP's independent monitors repeatedly sounded the alarm, saying relatives
of Somali aid workers would receive large handouts while others went
without. One of their reports spoke of supplies being fed to livestock.

_ A Somali government official stole 74 metric tons of food, according to an
internal WFP report obtained by AP.

Stefano Porretti, head of WFP's Somalia program, said feeding programs in
Mogadishu were expanded rapidly in emergency conditions, and from October to
January, WFP did not have independent monitoring was suspended.

"Changes to it (WFP procedures) are now being made," he said.

He said AP's research was done in that time frame, and that after AP's
findings were shown to WFP, the U.N. body's new third-party monitor watched
the sites closely for a week.

"The amount of food delivered is what is expected, and it is being cooked,"
Porretti said. "There is no diversion at the sites."

Somalia is perhaps the most dangerous country in the world for aid workers,
who face kidnappings, suicide bombings and assassination. The hot meals
program amounts to 8 percent of WFP operations in Somalia, and 17 of its
staffers and partners, all Somalis, have been killed since 2008. Two were
shot dead in December when they stumbled upon a "ghost camp" which was said
to have been set up to fool aid agencies into delivering food there.

Islamist insurgents from the group al-Shabab still held part of Mogadishu
last July, when the U.N. announced that parts of Somalia were suffering from
famine. The hunger crisis was blamed on a combination of drought, warfare
and a refusal by the insurgents to grant some aid groups access to areas it

By September, the U.N. said more than 100 children were dying every day. WFP
was already working to protect its aid from thieves, partly by delivering
hot meals that were difficult to resell. But while WFP knew how much food
was being given to the hot meals program, it did not track how many people
were receiving it.

When foreigners visit a WFP hot-meals site, the pots are always full and the
centers teem with people. Once the visitors leave, things change, as the
experience at a feeding center called Hodan illustrates.

During an official visit, Sorrdo, the local aid group acting for WFP, made
20 large pots of porridge for lunch. But a Somali woman with whom the AP
kept in touch said that on ordinary days only nine to 13 pot loads were
made. WFP said the Hodan site was feeding 7,000 people a day. But when the
AP made an unannounced visit last month, a flustered supervisor said only
3,000 were being fed.

Another Somali woman, Halimo Mukhtar, said she sometimes saw supervisors at
Hodan selling cart loads of supplies to traders to feed to livestock.

"Why do they say they give us food every day?" asked the mother of six,
whose youngest child was strapped to her back. She had received nothing, she
said, and her children would be hungry that night unless she went begging.

"The food we share between six people is not even enough for two," she said.
"They sell our food to people to feed animals."

Another site, Wadajir, sits less than 200 yards (meters) from the airport
base where WFP's international staff stay, and bustles with hundreds of
people during official WFP visits. But when the AP visited the site run by
Jumbo Peace and Development Organization last month, it was nearly deserted.
Somali aid workers there appeared caught off guard. Two workers contradicted
each other about how many people were being fed there, claimed a metal pot
that could only hold about one bag of food held three bags, and that people
usually came at 5 p.m. to be fed.

The site had closed at 1:30 p.m. on the previous day.

An AP translator overheard a worker named Sharif on a frantic phone call to
his superior.

"Have they taken pictures?" the manager asked.

"No, no, we stopped them," said the worker, glancing over nervously as a
journalist snapped photos of the almost empty site.

Keep the journalists outside and stop them from taking photos, the manager
yelled; he was coming right over.

At another site an observer who tried to take pictures for the AP was
immediately ejected, and staff insisted he delete the images. At some sites,
an observer reported, cooked food was sold to livestock traders, sometimes
directly by staff, and other times by recipients.

Many of the AP witness observations are corroborated in reports by Pbi2, the
company that previously carried out independent monitoring for WFP.

A July report obtained by the AP said that at several sites run by Saacid, a
Somali aid agency, "you will see good-looking beneficiaries ... who give the
food to their animals and they are the ones who get served first and they
are relatives of management."

"They load donkey carts of cooked food each day because they receive extra
ratios and even sometimes they come back several times while they know that
others don't get their ratio," the report said.

Tony Burns, Saacid director of operations, said it was "impossible" for cart
loads of food to be carried off, though he acknowledged a small amount may
have been used as animal feed. He said that once food was given away no one
could control what became of it and that the problem has "never risen to
serious levels."

Saacid is the biggest Somali aid agency in the capital. Until this month, it
ran 16 out of 21 of WFP's hot meal centers for families in partnership with
the Danish Refugee Council. Saacid says it left the program because it was

One Pbi2 report alleges that Saacid brought extra people from another center
to bump up the numbers when a WFP delegation visited the Howl-Wadaag center
in July. Burns denied such an event ever happened. In Bondere, also run by
Saacid, some people got 10 times their ration and others got nothing, the
report said. Burns said some favoritism takes place in the lines and the
group cannot curb it.

Saacid says that due to complex clan politics, visitors cannot visit sites
unannounced. The AP, each time it tried a surprise visit, was quickly told
to leave, and staff declined to give any information.

Pbi2's contract was not renewed in early October for reasons that neither it
nor WFP would disclose. The company declined an interview.

Following an August AP report about aid theft, when a journalist
photographed convoys of trucks unloading food aid at the market, WFP
assigned two investigators to look at the issue of food diversion. They have
not yet issued a report.

The Somali government fired and jailed two district commissioners, one of
whom was accused of looting the 74 tons of food from the warehouse. Both
were later pardoned and freed.

Some critics of the overall aid effort go so far as to claim that it does
more harm than good, because the influx of food and the associated looting
feed Somalia's black-market war economy. The powerful in Somali society have
little incentive to stop the suffering that brings in the aid - or to stop
the violence that prevents it being monitored, said Linda Polman, author of
"War Games," one of a growing number of books critical of aid dispensation
in combat zones.

"The solutions are not easy," said Polman. "Aid organizations have a
problem. It is difficult for them to be honest (about theft) because they
will be punished. Donations will go down and donor governments will be
angry. So it stays a well-kept secret," she said. "To change this you would
have to change the whole aid system."

Poretti said that WFP did its best to keep donors updated about the risks of
working in Somalia.

"Donor governments are updated regularly on the challenges we face working
in complex and insecure places like Somalia," he said "They are aware that
WFP has to weigh these risks carefully against the danger that lives may be
lost if we stop providing life-saving food assistance to vulnerable women
and children in places like Mogadishu."


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