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Somali famine aid didn’t reach intended recipients

MOGADISHU, Somalia - A large amount of food sent by the UN 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 UN has requested $1.5 billion for Somalia this year, partly to prevent a return of famine.

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The World Food Program provides much of Somalia’s food aid, and the UN 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 the World Food Program says it is addressing by changing procedures.

A critical problem was keeping track of supplies: the World Food Program 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 World Food Program 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 acknowledge.

The AP, along with a network of seven Somali observers who for their safety cannot be 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 emerged that:

■ Somali aid groups would cook and distribute at least 30 percent more food when expecting visits by journalists or World Food Program officials.

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

■ The World Food Program’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 World Food Program report obtained by AP.

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.

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