EU Suspends Funding for WFP in Somalia Amidst Widespread Aid Theft and Misuse

The European Union (EU) has temporarily halted its funding for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia following a U.N  investigation that uncovered rampant theft and misuse of aid intended to alleviate famine, according to a report by Reuters. The European Commission provided over $7 million in aid to the WFP’s operations in Somalia last year, a fraction of the more than $1 billion in donations it received, as indicated by U.N. data.

While it remains uncertain if other EU member states will also suspend their aid, Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the European Commission, stated that the EU has not received any official notification from its U.N. partners regarding the financial impact on EU-funded projects.

Ujvari emphasized that the EU maintains a zero-tolerance approach to fraud, corruption, and misconduct and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

According to Reuters the WFP, which has not responded to requests for comment, faces the suspension of aid after the U.N. investigation revealed that landowners, local authorities, security forces, and humanitarian workers were all involved in diverting aid meant for vulnerable individuals.

An anonymous senior EU official disclosed that the aid would be reinstated once the WFP met additional conditions, including vetting of partners on the ground in Somalia. Another senior EU official corroborated this information.

A third EU official confirmed that the European Commission is actively collaborating with the WFP to address systemic defects but clarified that no aid has been suspended at this stage. The report, which was marked “strictly confidential” and commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, highlights instances where internally displaced persons (IDPs) were coerced into paying a significant portion of their cash assistance to powerful individuals in exchange for protection against eviction, arrest, or removal from beneficiary lists.

Just three months ago, the WFP and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) suspended food aid to neighboring Ethiopia due to extensive diversion of donations. The European Commission contributes €10 million ($10.69 million) to Somalia and Ethiopia via the WFP, with the suspension affecting a portion of that funding, according to an EU official.

The United States serves as Somalia’s largest humanitarian donor, contributing over half of the $2.2 billion in funding allocated to the humanitarian response last year. USAID spokesperson Jessica Jennings stated that the United States is working to assess the extent of the diversion and is already implementing measures to protect beneficiaries and ensure that taxpayer money is used as intended to support vulnerable individuals in Somalia.

A USAID official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, clarified that the situations in Ethiopia and Somalia differ, indicating that the agency does not plan to suspend food assistance in Somalia.

A U.S. Congressional source explained that the decision to suspend aid in Ethiopia was partly due to the highly involved role of the federal government in the distribution of food assistance, which has raised concerns among donors.

The source suggested that the widespread theft of food assistance in Ethiopia provided an opportunity to reevaluate the delivery mechanisms. The Somali Disaster Management Office, responsible for coordinating the government’s humanitarian response, expressed commitment to investigating the findings of the U.N. report while noting that the current aid delivery systems operate independently of government channels.

The report further indicates that donors had increased funding to Somalia last year in response to warnings of an impending famine caused by the region’s severest drought in decades.

Although famine was ultimately averted, data from official sources estimates that approximately 43,000 people, including half of them children under the age of five, died as a result of the drought. The report did not quantify the specific amount of aid diverted but highlighted that post-delivery aid diversion in Somalia is pervasive and systemic.

Investigators discovered aid diversion in all 55 IDP sites in Somalia from which they collected data. Somalia currently hosts approximately 3.8 million displaced individuals, representing one of the highest displacement rates globally. Aid distribution has long been a challenge in Somalia due to weak government institutions, widespread insecurity stemming from an Islamist insurgency, and the marginalization of minority clans.

Efforts to combat corruption have led many humanitarian agencies to transition to cash-based transfers, which were considered less susceptible to corruption. However, the U.N. report reveals that even cash-based systems can be exploited. The report identifies various perpetrators, with powerful individuals from dominant local clans, known as “gatekeepers,” wielding significant influence over access to camp sites and food beneficiary lists to coerce payments from IDPs. Security forces also contribute to aid diversion by intimidating and arresting those who refuse to pay, while some humanitarian workers collude with gatekeepers to embezzle funds.

Although famine is currently averted, the report cautions that insufficient humanitarian funding could jeopardize the fragile progress made.

Global aid budgets are under strain, with only 36% of the $2.6 billion needed for Somalia’s humanitarian response this year being funded thus far.

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