Since July a severe drought has been affecting East Africa, and Somalia, in particular.
As a result of the drought several countries and more than 12 million people are facing severe food shortages. Conditions in some parts of Somalia have become so severe that for the first time in 30 years, the United Nations have declared a famine.
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have been displaced and refugee camps are massively overloaded.
This situation has led to an increase in crime, both within and around the camps. Most notably, large amounts of food supplies from the UN’s World Food Programme are being stolen for sale in markets or to be bartered for other goods.
One of the main antagonists to the attempts are delivering aide to southern Somali where the famine is the worst has been the Al-Shabaab militant group, who control large portions of southern Somalia in order to combat these militants and deliver aid to the residents of southern Somalia. In response, the government has formed a 300-man security force who are being assisted by peacekeepers from the African Union.
Though the UN has launched an investigation into the food thefts, there is still no evidence pointing to any specific culprits and with some estimates placing the amount of food stolen as high as half of all the food being imported by the UN, it is quite likely that numerous groups and individuals are stealing food, in addition to those hampering the World Food Programme in more overt ways.
While some theft is always inevitable in aid operations, what is surprising about the case in Somalia is the sheer scale of the theft.
One of the causes for this unprecedented level of theft is the scale of aid operations. With over 12 million people at risk of starvation, Somalia is seeing tremendous amounts of food being flown in. And with virtually every refugee camp in the area overflowing, organizing safe and reliable avenues of transport for relief supplies is a logistical nightmare.
Both the UN and the Somali government have sworn that no theft or resale of relief supplies will be tolerated and both institutions are investigating the food disappearances as well as working towards preventing any additional theft.