How famine makes unscrupulous businessmen fabulously wealthy

Published on Pambazuka News, by Rasna Warah, September 6, 2011.

The global aid industry has made a core group fabulously wealthy, writes Rasna Warah. In September 2008, a food aid convoy operated by a wealthy Somali businessman and his wife was allegedly looted by an armed group in northern Somalia. The owner of the company operating the convoy blamed the Union of Islamic Courts for the incident, but independent Somali and international sources told investigators from the Monitoring Group on Somalia that the attack was probably staged, and the food had, in fact, been diverted for sale … // 

… What’s more, AP found thousands of food sacks belonging to WFP, and the US and Japanese governments being sold in Mogadishu’s markets.

In an article published this month, AP revealed that it found eight sites in the capital where food aid was being sold. Among the items were maize, grain and Plumpy’nut, a fortified peanut butter designed for malnourished children. The article quoted an official in Mogadishu who believes that up to half of the food aid being sent to Somalia is stolen by unscrupulous businessmen. He claimed that before the current flood of food aid, the proportion of food stolen was probably smaller but “in recent weeks, the flood of aid into the capital with little or no controls has created a bonanza for businessmen”.

Predictably, WFP has denied the findings of the AP investigation and claims that “the scale of theft alleged is implausible” and that only 1 per cent of food aid to Somalia is being diverted, a claim supported by the Somali government, even though AP has published photos showing sacks of food aid being sold in Mogadishu markets.

This particular story did not get as much publicity as one would expect, perhaps because it has been overshadowed by the calls for food aid orchestrated by aid agencies who rely on donors to sustain their operations. If governments, individuals and corporations donating to humanitarian relief efforts and charities discover that much of the food they are paying for is stolen or diverted, they may not be so willing to give so generously. The food aid industry, not just in Somalia, but in other parts of the world, is fraught with scandals, yet there is hardly any attempt by donors, or even journalists, to report the ugly face of the thriving industry. It is so much easier to look the other way and pat yourself on the back for doing something for starving people.

Yet, if one dares to look deeply, one will find that food aid is a multi-billion dollar business which has helped a small group to become fabulously wealthy on the backs of starving people. (full text).

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