UNITED NATIONS — Up to half the food aid intended for the millions of hungry people in Somalia is being diverted to corrupt contractors, radical Islamic militants and local U.N. workers, according to a U.N. Security Council report.
The report blames the problem on improper food distribution by the U.N. World Food Program in the African nation, which has been plagued by fighting and humanitarian suffering for nearly two decades, according to a U.N. diplomat. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been released.
It calls on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to authorize an independent investigation of the Rome-based food agency’s operation in Somalia.
Because of the instability in Somalia, transporters must truck bags of food through roadblocks manned by a bewildering array of militias, insurgents and bandits. Kidnappings and executions are common and the insecurity makes it difficult for senior U.N. officials to travel to the country to check on procedures. Investigators could end up relying on the same people they are probing to provide protection.
The U.N. diplomat told The Associated Press that “a significant diversion” of food delivered by the U.N. food program is going to cartels that were selling it illegally, according to the report by the panel of experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against Somalia.
The findings were first reported by The New York Times on Tuesday.
Although WFP contracts are supposed to be subject to open tender and competitive bidding, “in practice the system offers little or no scope for genuine competition,” the diplomat quoted the report as saying.
The transportation contracts, with a budget of $200 million, constitute the single most important source of revenue in Somalia, the diplomat quoted the report as saying.
“Preliminary investigations by the monitoring group indicate the existence of a de facto cartel characterized by irregular procedures in the awarding of contracts by the WFP Somalia Country Office, discriminatory practices, and preferential treatment,” the report was quoted as saying.
“On account of their contracts with WFP, these men have become some of the wealthiest in Somalia,” it was quoted as saying.
Some 3.7 million people in Somalia — nearly half of the population — need aid. Earlier this year, the country’s main extremist Islamic group said it would prohibit WFP from distributing food in areas under its control because it says the food undercuts farmers selling recently harvested crops.
The group, al-Shabab, also accused the agency of handing out food unfit for human consumption and of secretly supporting “apostates,” or those who have renounced Islam.
According to the report, al-Shabab controls 95 percent of WFP’s areas of operation, the diplomat said.
It said Somalis with WFP contracts are not only diverting aid but sharing in the proceeds.
Approximately 30 percent of the food goes to the distributors or “implementing partners,” between 5 and 10 percent goes to the armed group in control of the area, and 10 percent to the ground transporter, the diplomat quoted the report as saying.
The rest — about 50 percent of the food aid — is distributed to the needy population, the report was quoted as saying.
World Food Program spokesman Greg Barrow said the agency planned no comment until it had time to study the report.
A Nairobi-based spokesman for WFP had said previously that internal investigations showed between 2 percent and 10 percent of aid was being sold. Spokesman Peter Smerdon was unable to show journalists that report and had not seen it himself.
The U.S. reduced its funding to Somalia last year after the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control feared aid could be diverted to al-Shabab, which the U.S. State Department says has links to al-Qaida. The issue remains unresolved.
The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report next Tuesday.