How Somalia food aid is stolen as ‘oppressed people are dying’

Girls carry food aid in the port city of Merca on the coast of southern Somalia.
Girls carry food aid in the port city of Merca on the coast of southern Somalia.
Wikimedia Commons photo

An Associated Press investigation out of Somalia today shows that up to half of all famine aid deliveries there are being stolen. In the best of times, theft of food aid is deplorable. At a time when 3.2 million Somalis — nearly half the population — are in dire need of food, it is also catastrophic. Already some 29,000 Somali children under the age of 5 have died.

Associated Press reporter Katharine Houreld filed a story today saying the United Nations is investigating the stolen aid:

“Thousands of sacks of food aid meant for Somalia’s famine victims have been stolen and are being sold at markets in the same neighborhoods where skeletal children in filthy refugee camps can’t find enough to eat, an Associated Press investigation has found.

“The U.N.’s World Food Program for the first time acknowledged it has been investigating food theft in Somalia for two months. The WFP said that the ‘scale and intensity’ of the famine crisis does not allow for a suspension of assistance, saying that doing so would lead to ‘many unnecessary deaths.’

“And the aid is not even safe once it has been distributed to families huddled in the makeshift camps popping up around the capital. Families at the large, government-run Badbado camp said they were often forced to hand back aid after journalists had taken photos of them with it.

“Ali Said Nur said he received two sacks of maize twice, 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.”

The U.N.’s World Food Program responded to the AP report with this statement:

“Food assistance from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other humanitarian agencies is providing a vital lifeline to the people of Somalia…

“All of the humanitarian agencies in Somalia recognise that this is one of the riskiest operating environments in the world. Donor governments are also aware of the risks of working in Somalia…

“WFP has put in place strengthened and rigorous monitoring and control in Somalia. However, given the lack of access to much of the territory due to security dangers and restrictions, humanitarian supply lines remain highly vulnerable to looting, attack and diversion by armed groups. Through these monitoring systems possible theft of food has been uncovered.

“WFP will investigate all alleged incidents and suspend any parties found responsible.

“WFP could consider suspending distributions while the investigations take place, but doing that in Somalia right now would lead to many unnecessary deaths. The scale and intensity of the humanitarian crisis simply does not allow for a suspension of food assistance.”

Apparently, a lot of people have been criticizing the famine relief efforts even before this latest revelation of stolen aid. Some even calling for aid to be suspended in places like Somalia.

Dave Eller, the president of the non-profit humanitarian organization World Concern recently felt compelled to respond to critics, posting this blog “Why We Help In Places Like Somalia.”

“As I read the daily news articles about the famine in the Horn of Africa, I’m continuously shocked at the angry comments posted at the end of these articles. Many of them are downright hateful, and imply that we as Americans should not help other countries where there are groups that have expressed hatred toward the U.S.

“I’ve even heard questions like, ‘Why should I care?’  Or, ‘Haven’t those people brought this on themselves with their violence?’

“To me, this is irrational thinking. Humanitarian organizations provide aid in some challenging places. We do so because there are innocent children and families who are caught in the middle and need help. In the case of Somalia, these families have no government to turn to for help. It doesn’t exist. Their crops have failed, their animals have died, and they have left their homes in search of survival.

“In almost all suffering it is possible to point to people individually or corporately that are responsible for the injustice.  The most intense suffering and hardest to overcome is that which people inflict on others.  Injustice is not limited to the rich oppressing the poor.  Wherever people have an element of power – whether wealth, land, social, political or positional – over another person, there is the risk for oppression.  This is the situation in Somalia.  There are those with power that are oppressing the powerless.  This has held people down so they have been living just above the survival line in the best of times. The drought has limited food production for the last two years and plunged the population below the survival line. Oppressed people are dying…”

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