Somalia Famine Aid Stolen: U.N.

The United Nations is investigating widespread claims of theft of food aid in Somalia, amid a famine that has killed tens of thousands. Read the latest news and Daily Beast contributors' reports on the crisis.

08.13.11 7:51 PM ET

August 15, 2011 12:45 PM

Just when the cruel situation in Somalia couldn’t get much worse, an Associated Press investigation has discovered that sacks of food sent to alleviate the country’s severe famine have been stolen and are being sold at markets as children starve nearby. The U.N.’s World Food program acknowledged that it has been investigating the food theft for two months. The food isn’t even safe once it’s been handed out to the starving families. People in the large Badbado camp near Mogadishu said they were often forced to hand back their food once journalists had taken photos of them with it. International officials expected some of the aid to go missing, but have been stunned by the scale of the theft. The U.S. estimates that 450,000 people live in famine zones controlled by militants, making them difficult to reach, and that 29,000 children under 5 have already died.

August 12, 2011 10:10 PM

In another piece of devastating news from Somalia, United Nations officials said Friday that the country is facing a cholera epidemic, with 181 confirmed deaths from the disease in Mogadishu, and several other confirmed outbreaks in the country. Officials from the U.N. World Health Organization said the epidemic has spread so quickly because so much of the population is mobile. Sections of the southern part of the country have been gripped by a famine that has already killed an estimated 29,000 children. More than 100,000 people have fled the south and settled in makeshift camps in Mogadishu, the capital city that is ruled by a transitional government. Cholera, spread through dirty water, is easily treated by oral rehydration salts and antibiotics, but many health centers in Somalia lack these basic supplies.

August 9, 2011 4:38 PM

Mohamed A. Mohamed needs to pinch himself to see if it was all a dream. Mohamed was the prime minister of Somalia—for nine months. Now he's back home in Buffalo, N.Y., at his old job at the state Department of Transportation, in a little cubicle with a window. Less than two months ago, he was battling terrorists, pirates, and warlords. He addressed dignitaries from the United Nations. Mohamed, a University of Buffalo graduate who had left Somalia and settled in Buffalo more than 20 years ago, was offered the prime-minister position last October after meeting with President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, even though he had no experience in international politics. He was removed from office in June following a deal between the president and the speaker of Parliament. He now says he was naive: “I thought there was a functioning system that only needed some adjustment here and there. But honestly, everywhere was dysfunction. You’re starting from scratch.”

August 5, 2011 12:19 PM

Chaos and violence gripped the famine-stricken country of Somalia on Friday when government troops opened fire on civilians during a fight for food. Seven civilians were killed as both groups grabbed for handouts at a U.N. distribution site in the country’s capital. Witnesses of the bloodshed said soldiers tried to steal some 290 tons of rations being doled out at a famine refugee camp. When refugees started pushing their way through to the food, soldiers reportedly opened fire. “It was carnage,” said a man living at the camp. “Even dead bodies were left on the ground and other wounded bled to death.”

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August 4, 2011 11:48 AM

The famine in Somalia has claimed the lives of 29,000 children under the age of 5, according to a U.S. official, in the first precise estimate of the disaster's death toll. Somalia is suffering from its worst drought in 60 years, and Al-Shabab, an al Qaeda-linked group, is preventing U.N. assistance from reaching much of the country. Al-Shabab soldiers, many of whom are children themselves, are stopping and sometimes killing refugees on their way to Mogadishu to collect food. The U.N. says 3.2 million Somalis are in need of immediate assistance.

Under Siege In Somalia
by Dr. Hawa Abdi & Sarah J. Robbins

A people plagued by catastrophic famine—and the tyranny of Islamist fanatics.

Hawa Abdi is an obstetrician and gynecologist who in 1983 established a one-room clinic near Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Over time this small operation evolved into one of the largest camps and medical facilities for internally displaced people in the war-torn country. Today the camp houses 90,000 people, mostly women and children. She works alongside her two daughters, also doctors, under perilous conditions. Here she recounts an episode in 2010 when Islamist militants invaded her camp and held her hostage for several days.

I ignored their call, so they came to my gate unannounced: six members of the Somali insurgent group Hizbul Islam, with a request to speak with me in person. Their militia had controlled our area for the past year—the latest in an endless line of transitional leaders, warlords, and regimes I’d seen since the collapse of Somalia’s government. I was examining a severely malnourished child, who hadn’t eaten for at least four days, when I heard the news; I was not willing to abandon my patient for a conversation with people whose only clear goals were to rob, to take over, or to kill.


Hawa's Haven
by Eliza Griswold

At Dr. Abdi’s farm outside Mogadishu, she and her nurses lined up what look like dusty bundles.

On the battered veranda of Dr. Hawa Abdi’s family farm outside Mogadishu, she and her nurses lined up what look like dusty bundles. They were, upon closer inspection, newborn babies failing to thrive. The veranda, roofless and open to the bitter blue sky where the seasonal gu rains sputter, serves as a makeshift neonatal ward. To be gentle, Abdi calls the veranda “intensive care.”

It was a death camp, really. None of the babies were likely to survive. First cows die, then babies—this is the grim pattern that presages the cycle of starvation Abdi has watched on this plot of barren earth.


A somalian mother cradles her malnourished baby in a field hospital in a refugee camp in Dadaab, northeastern Kenya on Wednesday, August 3rd 2011. Somalia and parts of Kenya have been struck by one of the worst droughts and famines in six decades, more than 350.000 refugees have found shelter in the worlds biggest refugee camp. Foto: Boris Roessler     DPA/LANDOV

Boris Roessler, DPA / Landov

A Somali mother cradles her malnourished baby in a field hospital in a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya

My assignment in Africa occurred as our own country fixated on the debt debate in Washington. But I came face to face with a debt of a different sort.

It’s shortly after daybreak and the sun has risen over the giant red gate in Dadaab, Kenya. We arrive by truck, and in the distance, through the fog of dust, we see the crowd gathered in blistering heat. It isn’t until we are among them that we witness one of the most searing images of all: a mother emerging from the parched desert carrying the sum of her family’s belongings upon her head and in bags strapped to her shoulders. Inside a tiny bag in front of her, she carries her baby.

Little by little, mothers and their children emerge as she did. It’s estimated that 1,500 refugees come to the Dadaab refugee camp every day. Many of them have walked more than 100 miles from Somalia to Kenya, driven from their homes by drought, hunger, and conflict. They are walking to food and to freedom.


Deka Abshir, 2-years-old and young her brother 5-months-old Abdiwaheb Abshir, malnourished children from southern Somalia sits on bed at Bandar hospital, Mogadishu, July 26, 2011, after fleeing from southern Somalia.

Farah Abdi Warsameh / AP Photo

The food crisis in Africa is the world’s “most severe humanitarian emergency,” writes the CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. And yet, she says, it has garnered little attention.

How well we recall the jarring broadcasts and heart-rending scenes of orphans in Haiti, whose families and homes were wiped out by the devastating earthquake. These images are deeply etched in our memories, thanks to intensive and sustained world media coverage. As a result, they helped generate an outpouring of support from the public.

Now shift to the Horn of Africa, where more than 2 million children’s lives are in danger as a result of an enormous food crisis, brought on by drought and regional conflict. There is comparatively little media attention. This catastrophe is not on the public agenda. It urgently needs to be.


Al Shabab

AP Photo

Three million drought-stricken Somalis' lives hung in the balance because of an ill-defined law that prevented Secretary Clinton from getting them the aid they need. Eliza Griswold on the US’ decision to change the rules.

USAID and the U.S. Treasury Department have announced they will cut the snarl of red tape blocking food and other aid from reaching nearly 3 million starving Somalis. 29,000 children have died as a result of the famine so far, and money couldn’t reach the worst hit areas because they often lie within the strongholds of the militant group al Shabab. But the U.S.'s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will now grant the necessary licenses to aid groups working in Somalia, which means, most importantly, the World Food Program can begin to work.

As The Daily Beast reported two weeks ago, Secretary Hillary Clinton’s office at the State Department had announced that the U.S. was willing to send humanitarian aid to Somalia despite the fact that much of the country is under the control of Al Shabab, a ragtag bunch of grifters and militants, some of whom have ties to Al Qaeda. But even though Clinton was ready to send help, the red tape wouldn’t allow it.