EU Suspends Food Aid in Somalia Temporarily Following UN Findings of Widespread Theft

by Ella

Brussels, September 19, 2023 – The European Union (EU) has taken the decision to temporarily halt its funding for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia in the wake of a United Nations (UN) investigation that uncovered extensive misappropriation and theft of humanitarian aid intended to alleviate famine conditions in the region, according to two senior EU officials who spoke to Reuters on Monday.

Last year, the European Commission provided over $7 million in aid to support WFP operations in Somalia, a fraction of the more than $1 billion in total donations received by the organization, as reported by UN data. While some EU member states contributed additional funds on a bilateral basis, it remains unclear whether they will follow suit in suspending aid.


Balazs Ujvari, a spokesperson for the European Commission, refrained from explicitly confirming or denying the temporary suspension but emphasized the EU’s commitment to monitoring the situation closely and maintaining a “zero-tolerance approach to fraud, corruption, or misconduct.”


As of now, the WFP has not yet responded to requests for comment on this development.


One senior EU official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, disclosed that the decision to suspend aid followed the UN investigation’s conclusion, which implicated various parties, including landowners, local authorities, security forces, and humanitarian workers, in the theft of aid intended for vulnerable populations. The official added that aid would be reinstated once the WFP fulfills specified conditions, including enhancing the vetting of on-the-ground partners in Somalia. A second senior EU official confirmed this stance.


Another EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that while the European Commission was actively cooperating with the WFP to address systemic issues, no aid had been suspended at this stage.

The UN’s report, dated July 7 and labeled as “strictly confidential,” was commissioned by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The report’s contents were initially published on Monday by Devex, a media outlet specializing in international development.

The report highlighted accounts from internally displaced persons (IDPs) who claimed they were coerced into relinquishing up to half of their cash assistance to individuals in positions of power. These individuals reportedly wielded the threat of eviction, arrest, or removal from beneficiary lists to secure these payments.

This suspension of aid in Somalia mirrors a similar action taken by the WFP and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) three months ago when food aid to neighboring Ethiopia was suspended due to concerns of widespread diversion of donations.

The European Commission contributes a total of 10 million euros ($10.69 million) to support both Somalia and Ethiopia through the WFP, with the suspension affecting a portion of this funding, as clarified by one of the senior EU officials.

The United States stands as the largest humanitarian donor to Somalia, contributing over half of the $2.2 billion in funding allocated to humanitarian response in the region last year. USAID spokesperson Jessica Jennings assured that the U.S. was actively investigating the extent of the diversion and taking steps to safeguard beneficiaries and ensure the proper use of taxpayer funds in Somalia.

In contrast to the situation in Ethiopia, USAID does not currently plan to pause food assistance in Somalia, as indicated by an agency official.

The Somali Disaster Management Office, responsible for coordinating the government’s humanitarian response, released a statement on Monday expressing the government’s commitment to investigating the findings of the UN report. It noted that the current aid delivery systems operate independently of government channels.

As the UN report underscores, donors increased their funding to Somalia last year to address the looming famine brought on by the Horn of Africa’s severe drought. Official data suggests that famine was averted, but an estimated 43,000 people, half of whom were children under 5, lost their lives due to the drought in the preceding year.

While the report did not quantify the amount of aid diverted, it emphasized that the findings “suggest that post-delivery aid diversion in Somalia is widespread and systemic.” Investigators gathered data from 55 IDP sites in Somalia and identified aid diversion in all of them. Somalia currently hosts approximately 3.8 million internally displaced people, ranking among the highest rates globally.

Aid distribution in Somalia has faced long-standing challenges due to weak government institutions, pervasive insecurity driven by an Islamist insurgency, and the marginalization of minority clans. Efforts to combat aid theft and corruption have led many humanitarian agencies to transition to cash-based transfers, which were considered less susceptible to corruption. However, the UN report underscores that even cash-based systems can be exploited, with powerful individuals known as “gatekeepers” leveraging their influence to coerce payments from IDPs.

Security forces have also been implicated in intimidating and arresting individuals who resist such payments, while certain humanitarian workers have been found colluding with gatekeepers to pocket stolen funds.

Despite averting famine for the time being, the report warns that inadequate humanitarian funding could jeopardize the fragile progress made. Currently, only 36% of the $2.6 billion deemed necessary for Somalia’s humanitarian response in the present year has been funded, according to UN figures.



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