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U.N. Official Calls Report On WFP In Somalia ‘Misleading’; WFP Discusses Plans To Ramp Up Food Aid To Niger, Uganda

The U.N. top aid chief “in Somalia has fired back at a report that suggests food aid is being skimmed off by contractors as ‘a cost of doing business’ in the war-torn nation, an allegation he calls ‘completely misleading,'” CNN reports. CNN continues: “A March 10 report by the world body’s Somalia Monitoring Group found that humanitarian aid was being diverted to military uses in the conflict, and that some Somali contractors hired by aid agencies were channeling profits into armed opposition groups. One part of the report suggested as much as 45 to 50 percent of World Food Programme [WFP] shipments may have been skimmed off by transport companies, local distributors and the armed groups that control the districts in which they operate” (McKenzie, 3/25). 

According to AP/Forbes, Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s resident coordinator for Somalia, “said the bad publicity has made it harder for aid workers dealing with increased malnutrition in Somalia” (Klapper, 3/25). Josette Sheeran, WFP executive director, who has called for an independent inquiry into WFP’s work in Somalia, said of the report, “We have had no evidence and have not been presented with any evidence of any wide-scale diversion at any level,” Agence France-Presse reports (3/25).

In other news, Sheeran said Thursday that the agency was getting ready to more than double food aid to Niger, where the “last harvest was very bad due to a shortage of rain” and a famine was developing, AFP reports in another story.

“We are putting in place a programme to add 860,000 people (to the programme) and we are ready to double this figure or adjust it according to the needs,” Sheeran said. “The WFP currently supplies food to 1.2 million people in Niger and warned that this figure could rise to three million. The U.N. is in the midst of assessing needs in the country, Sheeran said, pointing out that Niger authorities have said that some 3.4 million people are in need of food aid” (3/25). 

In related news, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) in its March update said at least 900,000 people in Karamoja, northeastern Uganda, are facing significant food insecurity because of four consecutive years of failed rains and poor harvests, IRIN reports. FEWS Net said at least 81 percent of the estimated 1.1 million food-insecure people in Uganda are in Karamoja.

The WFP said it will need to restart food distributions in the region next month. “Erratic rainfall in 2009 has indeed had an effect on the main harvest in Karamoja, and as such WFP maintained its general food distribution operations for nearly 90 percent of the population up until December,” Stanlake Samkange, WFP country director, said. “However, according to a December 2009 Health, Nutrition and Food Security assessment, the remaining yields from the harvest were predicted to last up to three months; WFP therefore plans to begin targeted food assistance in April to meet the critical gaps” (3/26).

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