New UN report says Somali food aid failing to reach the poor (NYT)

Rather than reaching the needy, up to half of Somalia’s food aid ends up in the pockets of radical militants, corrupt bureaucrats and local businessmen, and local UN staff, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times on the findings of a new UN report.

The report, which has not yet been made public but was shown to The New York Times by diplomats, outlines a host of problems so grave that it recommends that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon open an independent investigation into the World Food Program’s Somalia operations. It suggests that the program rebuild the food distribution system — which serves at least 2.5 million people and whose aid was worth about $485 million in 2009 — 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 bidders, some of whom may have been pirates or insurgents.

The report will be presented to the Security Council on Tuesday. Early analysis from the UN Dispatch uses the findings to discuss the tension between development and diplomacy objectives (What Happens When Political and Humanitarian Goals Collide?).

UPDATE: The WFP has now declared that it will no longer channel food aid through the three Somali businessmen who have until now been receiving 80 percent ($200 million dollars worth) of WFP transportation contracts, and who are suspected of ties to Islamist insurgents.

For background on US policy in Somalia and recent tensions between the US and the UN there: See the War and Peace blog which argued last month that there is no way to aid Somalia without some part of the assistance flowing to Islamist groups, and asks why the US buys out radical groups in Iraq and Afghanistan but wants to cut them out in Somalia.  A new CFR report argues that the US should step back politically while continuing to channel humanitarian relief and development aid through local authorities, despite the risk of that aid being diverted.