As much as half the food aid sent to Somalia is diverted from needy people to a web of corrupt contractors, radical Islamist militants and local United Nations staff
, according to a new Security Council report. The report, which has not yet been made public but was shown to The New York Times, outlines a host of problems so grave that it recommends Secretary General Ban Ki-moon open an independent investigation into the World Food Program there. It suggests that the program rebuild the food distribution system — which serves at least 2.5 million people — from scratch to break what it describes as a corrupt cartel of Somali distributors.
In addition to the diversion of food aid, regional Somali authorities are collaborating with pirates who hijack ships along the lawless coast, the report says, and Somali government ministers have auctioned off diplomatic visas for trips to Europe to the highest bidder, some of whom may have been pirates or insurgents.
It singles out the World Food Program, the single largest aid agency in the crisis-wracked country, as particularly flawed. “Some humanitarian resources, notably food aid, have been diverted to military uses,
” the report said. “A handful of Somali contractors for aid agencies have formed a cartel and become important power brokers — some of whom channel their profits — or the aid itself — directly to armed opposition groups.”
The report also charges that Somali officials are selling spots on trips to Europe and that many of the people who are presented as part of an official government entourage are actually pirates or members of militant groups.
The report says that Somali officials use their connections to foreign governments to get visas and travel documents for people who would not otherwise be able to travel abroad and that many of these people then disappear into Europe and do not come back. “Somali ministers, members of parliament, diplomats and ‘freelance brokers’ have transformed access to foreign visas into a growth industry, matched possibly only by piracy, selling visas for $10-15,000 each,” the report said. The reports’ authors estimate that dozens, if not hundreds, of Somalis have gained access to Europe or beyond through this under-the-table visa business.
The report questions why the World Food Program would steer 80 percent of its transportation contracts for Somalia, worth about $200 million, to three Somali businessmen, especially when they are suspected of connections to Islamist insurgents. The report says that fraud is pervasive, with approximately 30 percent of aid skimmed by local partners and local World Food Program personnel, 10 percent by the ground transporters and 5 to 10 percent by the armed group in control of the area. That means as much as half of food never makes it to the people who desperately need it.
In January, the American government halted tens of millions of dollars of aid shipments to southern Somalia because of fears of such diversions, and American officials believe that some of the aid may have fallen into the hands of the Shabab, the most militant of Somalia’s insurgent groups.