Widespread theft of aid deliveries in Somalia Sparks International Concern

Women in Galkayo in Central Somalia wait to receive their cash entitlements from the European Union. Photo: WFP/Karel Prinsloo

MOGADISHU, Somalia - In a startling revelation, an intricate network comprising Somali landowners, clan leaders, police, and local authorities has been found to enforce a coercive taxation system on aid recipients, primarily those displaced due to drought and conflict.

The vulnerable individuals, beneficiaries of U.S.-funded aid, face threats of arrest, physical harm, or denial of essential assistance if they resist these illicit demands. This information emerges from an independent review initiated by the United Nations.

This disclosure follows closely on the heels of the U.S. suspending humanitarian aid in Ethiopia, after raising concerns about the misappropriation of U.S.-funded food supplies in the Tigray province. The findings from the U.N. report, which have not been reported earlier, raise significant concerns about the efficacy of global humanitarian efforts and the responsible utilization of billions in taxpayer funds.

The challenges of delivering humanitarian aid in conflict-ridden regions, further complicated by terrorism and intricate clan systems, are immense. This situation presents a moral conundrum for U.S. and U.N. policymakers: Is a degree of corruption acceptable if it means saving countless lives, especially in conflict zones where monitoring aid delivery is challenging?

In response to these concerns, USAID has taken proactive measures, appointing a coordinator to bolster oversight and initiating a working group to address risks of aid diversions globally. The World Food Programme (WFP) is also reviewing its procedures to prevent financial aid misuse.

Eri Kaneko, spokesperson for the U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, emphasized the U.N.'s commitment to ensuring that aid reaches its intended recipients. The U.S. has also expressed its determination to prevent aid diversion in Somalia, with USAID spokesperson Jessica Jennings stating that the U.S. will take necessary actions to ensure the intended beneficiaries receive aid.

The U.N. report offers 16 recommendations to curb corruption, including a nationwide investigation into aid diversion, increased site monitoring, and a redesign of the beneficiary selection process.

Despite previous measures to prevent aid theft, such as biometric registration systems and comprehensive risk management systems, safeguards against abuses remain inadequate. The recent escalation in financial assistance to Somalia, aimed at preventing famine in a drought-stricken region, has led to increased reports of theft.

The U.N. report's findings suggest that aid diversion in Somalia is widespread and systemic. Displaced individuals reportedly face coercion, with many paying up to half of their aid to various stakeholders. The report also highlights the role of Somalia's national security institutions and local authorities in the misappropriation of aid.

The European Union has temporarily suspended funding for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia, following the U.N. investigation's findings. The European Commission provided over $7 million in aid to WFP's operations in Somalia last year. It remains uncertain if other EU member states will follow suit.

Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the European Commission, stated that the EU has not been informed of any financial impact on EU-funded projects. The WFP has yet to comment on the matter.

The U.N. report, marked "strictly confidential," was commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The findings were first published by Devex, a media platform dedicated to international development.


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