Mid morning this morning I read what I consider the most deflating news yet about the crisis in the Horn of Africa: sacks of food aid meant for Somalis dying of starvation are being stolen and sold at nearby markets.
From the AP report: In Mogadishu markets, vast piles of food sacks are for sale with stamps on them from the World Food Program, the U.S. government aid arm USAID and the Japanese government. The AP found eight sites where aid food was being sold in bulk and numerous smaller stores. Among the items being sold were corn, grain, and Plumpy'nut - a specially fortified peanut butter designed for starving children.
An official in Mogadishu with extensive knowledge of the food trade said he believes a massive amount of aid is being stolen - perhaps up to half of aid deliveries - by unscrupulous businessmen. The percentage had been lower, he said, but in recent weeks the flood of aid into the capital with little or no controls has created a bonanza for businessmen.
Some families even told the AP that food handed out is taken back after photographers get their photos. The families have no choice to comply, they say, or face being kicked out of the refugee camps.
It sounds like a repeat of what happened in nearly 20 years ago. Despite the thefts, the World Food Program is continuing with distributing the food aid. To not do so would cause "many unnecessary deaths."
But a report from National Public Radio on Sunday highlighted what may be a cause for hope for Somalia, as strange as it sounds.
The famine and drought have taken their toll on the terrorist group al-Shabaab, which controls the regions experiencing the worst of the famine. Where there are no farmers, no agricultural yields, there are no shops and markets, and al-Shabaab's "whole structure" collapsed, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Program at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
"There is a narrow window of opportunity right now if the international community were to engage local communities, local leaders [and] assist them, strengthen them while [al-Shabaab] is weak," Pham said.
The World Food Program isn't stopping its aid, and according to some, continuing to try to get aid into the region is the only way to continue to break down al-Shabaab's hold on the region. Don't give up hope for Somalia. Help here.