UN workers stealing food from starving children

The UN still has not learned anything from the Oil-for-Food scandal that enriched Saddam Hussein beyond the dreams of avarice while leaving Iraqis to starve.  This time, Somalia gets the brunt of Turtle Bay corruption, with the food donated by UN countries and individual contributors disappearing into the black market in Mogadishu.  In fact, the UN had no idea that the food wasn’t getting to the starving people of Somalia until reporters showed them pictures of UN-packaged goods on sale:

One of the UN’s largest international relief efforts is under investigation after it emerged that thousands of sacks of food aid were being diverted from starving refugees and openly sold for profit.

The head of the UN’s $955 million (£580 million) aid operation in Somalia has launched an inquiry after being shown footage showing tonnes of food bearing the World Food Programme (WFP) logo widely on sale in Mogadishu, the capital.

Stacks of bags of maize and wheat and tins of cooking oil — marked “not for re-sale” and bearing the UN stamp — are on sale from ten warehouses and 15 shops in the city’s main market.

About 45,000 tonnes of WFP food are shipped to Somalia from Kenya every month. Mogadishu traders told Channel 4 News that they bought their supplies straight from UN staff. “We buy [food] aid from WFP staff directly or from people they employ,” one market trader said.

“They take us to the warehouses used by the WFP and let us load our lorries. The goods are freely available and you can buy as much as you like, but we usually buy no more than 500 to 1,000 sacks at a time. Just a tonne or half a tonne a day can be shifted more discreetly.”

Dishonest people flock to these kinds of efforts.  Wherever money can be made, corruption does not linger for long.  However, competent organizations put rational safeguards in place to keep corruption from happening — especially when the same organization has had a number of high-profile scandals.

How difficut is it to put effective guards on the warehouses?  The UN personnel sold it right out of their own warehouses and helped them load the trucks.  The UN has probably already lost millions of dollars in cash and food donations while its employees enrich themselves at the expense of starving women and children.  And the only way Turtle Bay found out about it was to have someone outside the organization videotape the product on the black market, which shows conclusively that the UN doesn’t bother to audit their efforts, even after committing the largest fraud in human history with the Oil-for-Food program.

Who benefits from all of the black-market theft?  Certainly the UN employees do, but who gets the cash from the sale of the goods?  Usually in situations like Somalia’s, black market profits wind up in the hands of the warlords, revolutionaries, and terrorists — the people who cannot compete in legitimate markets.  With the current anarchy in Somalia, it will be hard to pinpoint exactly where the money went, but it’s at least a good bet that the UN has funded the very people who created the need for humanitarian relief in the first place.

Even when it does something right, the UN manages to get it wrong.