Somalia food aid reportedly bypasses needy

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Food aid to Somalia is being diverted and stolen on a massive scale, according to a leaked United Nations report. Anchor Marco Werman gets the details from Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa correspondent for the New York Times.

MARCO WERMAN: Nearly two decades of fighting and humanitarian suffering has left Somalia a failed state. More than a third of the people in the east African nation are hungry. Now it appears that much of the food aid intended for them is being stolen. A U.N. Security Council study reportedly concludes that corrupt contractors, Islamist militants and even local U.N. workers are taking up to half the aid meant for the needy. Jeffrey Gettleman is east African correspondent for the New York Times. Jeff, to start off with here, what makes food distribution in Somalia so difficult?

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: Truly a perfect storm of problems. For starters there's no government and as a result, the place has been lawless and chaotic for the last 20 years. Then you have this new problem of kidnapping of aid workers and threats to Westerners so it's very hard for any aid agency to monitor what's going on in Somalia because there's almost no foreign presence there. There are no diplomats, there are no aid workers. Very few journalists go in there and then on top of that you have a country that has been struck by drought after drought, crisis after crisis. You have millions of people who have been displaced and displaced people can't farm, they can't fend for themselves, they can't feed themselves so as a result you have great need and then on the other side great difficulty in meeting those needs because of the lawlessness and the chaos.

WERMAN: So in other words, because there are no aid workers there to kind of receive this shipment of aid, the West is essentially sending all of its food aid and not knowing how it's kind of arriving or where it goes.

GETTLEMAN: There are local aid organizations and some of them do very heroic work. Many local aid workers have been killed by different militant groups. These people are considered spies by some of the militant groups just because they're working with an American or a British or a foreign aid organization so they're taking huge risks just to be there.

WERMAN: Well take us through briefly, Jeff, what happens when that food arrives in Somalia. Someone in Nairobi rubber-stamps a multi-ton shipment of food aid. Take us through what happens before it actually gets to the people who need it, once that food aid comes to the port.

GETTLEMAN: You know I think it's a really interesting topic. Once the ships land in Somalia, they have to subcontract the delivery of the aid to a whole bunch of different actors, some with ties to militant groups, some that don't have the best business reputation but they're the only guys in town that have the trucks, that have the manpower, that have the experience delivering aid. Then in between you know, the port and the hungry people are a hundred different checkpoints often, landmines, you know, pirates, militant groups and there's just a lot of challenges to actually get the aid from the port to the people who need it.

WERMAN: In other words, the number of potential windows of fraud that that food aid has to pass through are really unknown. We just don't know essentially what happens to it once it gets to the port.

GETTLEMAN: No and some of this is really a cost of doing business. It would be impossible to hope that all the aid would get to the people who it's intended for, without some of it being you know, siphoned off by the various actors along the way. Some of these militant groups like the Shaba, which is a hard-line Islamic group that's chopped off hands and stoned people to death and has lynched Al Qaeda, they demand payments at the checkpoint. They might say, hey give me a couple packs of grain so I can sell it in the market for money or so I can use it to eat it so to get the aid through, there's often, you know, often some of that aid disappears and this isn't unique to Somalia. This is true in many consoled zones that if you want to get the aid to the people who need it, you have to play ball with the authorities on the ground.

WERMAN: The U.N. Security Council study that you reported on today will be presented publicly to the Security Council next Tuesday. What follow up will there be?

GETTLEMAN: I think people are going to put pressure on the U.N. Security Council to make more specific action to either open up more investigations into the WFP operations, the World Food Program operations, maybe to hire outside contractors to come in and monitor the aid convoys to make sure this food is getting to where it needs to go. I think there's also going to be a lot of criticism and more scrutiny on the Somalia government because it's basically, the world feels, the Western world feels they don't have an alternative to the transitional federal government right now and therefore they have to support these guys, no matter what. Well, this report indicates there's a lot of corruption going on within that government and there's going to be some questions raised and then you have this ongoing piracy issue where it looks like some local Somali officials are helping the pirates and there's going to be a lot more pressure on them to crack down on piracy because it's really becoming a menace to global trade.

WERMAN: Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa correspondent for the New York Times. Thank you very much.

GETTLEMAN: Glad to help.