Shocker: Somali food aid inefficient?!?!

Apparently the UN Security Council is about to issue a report saying “as much as half the food aid sent to Somalia is diverted from needy people to a web of corrupt contractors, radical Islamist militants and local United Nations staff members.” Let me be the first to say that I’m shocked, shocked, to learn that food aid to Somalia is inefficient.

But before the outrage spreads, I think it’s worth considering what an acceptable loss ratio looks like in a place like Somalia. The up-to-50% rate cited in the report may look either high or low, but not outside the wide range I might expect based on my scant knowledge of Somalia. First, the country has a patchwork of armed, semi-territorial powers that each want to feed their supporters and militants, and any aid programs hoping to distribute throughout the country is bound to face rent-seeking behavior from ever single group with a gun. Some of that is going to come directly from the aid to the militants. Other parts will come from taxes on local distributors, and still more from anonymous highway robbery that doesn’t get put into any warlord’s ledger publicly. So is 50% too high? It’s probably impossible for someone not immediately on the ground in the WFP to say. What is undoubtedly true is that if we are committed to nation-wide food distribution in today’s Somalia, then we’re implicitly committing to a shockingly-large loss ratio.

What worries me more than the headline number is the news that a good-sized chunk of the aid is siphoned off by WFP employees themselves. That seems like a an obvious and inexcusable waste, and hopefully a good target for some enterprising prosecutor to issue some indictments.

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3 Responses to “Shocker: Somali food aid inefficient?!?!”


  1. 1 Nathan March 11, 2010 at 9:59 am

    It never ceases to amaze me that people still go hungry in a world where our potential food production level is at least twice that of our necessary food demand. Can’t Norman Borlaug solve this problem? Oh wait he’s not around anymore. Damn.

    • 2 JSC5 March 11, 2010 at 9:00 pm

      But Nate, it’s not at all an issue of production, it’s an issue of distribution, which is complicated by concerns about sovereignty, local markets, development, security, justice, etc. Unlike in Borlaug’s day, improving yields is no longer the limiting factor. It’s everything else.

      • 3 Nathan March 12, 2010 at 10:47 pm

        Yeah I know, thats the amazing part. The food exists, we just cant get it to the right place. You would think that growing the food would be the most difficult part and getting it to a hungry mouth would be an afterthought, but somehow it’s the other way around.


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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