The head of the World Food Program says previous internal investigations have found no evidence of food aid having been illegally diverted in Somalia. A U.N. report leaked earlier this month charges up to half the Somalia aid is being diverted to corrupt contractors, radical Islamic groups, and local U.N. workers.
World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran calls Somalia her agency's most dangerous and complex operation.
She says security concerns and unacceptable demands by local militants forced the World Food Program to temporarily suspend its aid distribution program in southern Somalia. She says the operation would have been unduly compromised had it continued.
The authors of the U.N. report blame the alleged diversion of food aid on a faulty WFP distribution system. Sheeran refutes these charges.
Because of the high-risk nature of the operation, she says the World Food Program uses every tool possible to monitor the distribution of aid. Sheeran says she has seen zero evidence to corroborate the allegations of the widespread illegal siphoning of food in Somalia.
"We have conducted numerous investigations. We always do in any high-risk operation," Sheeran said. "And, having said that, we have had no evidence and have not been presented with any evidence of any wide-scale diversion at any level anywhere near what was presented based on conversations in that report."
The World Food Program chief says her organization is very transparent and she welcomes any external investigation to look into this matter.
Sheeran says other countries in Africa also are in great need of help. She says the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa is increasing the vulnerability of millions of hungry people.
She says a serious food crisis is unfolding in Niger putting millions of people at risk. Answering these needs, she says, poses a huge challenge.
"Often when a new challenge comes on, especially when you have competing needs such as Haiti with dramatic events that have caused it, we have to really bring attention to the fact that these slower onset disasters can have just as devastating an effect," Sheeran said.
The government of Niger reports 3.4 million people do not get enough to eat in the country. The World Food Program is feeding 1.2 million people a month, but, it says it expects that number to increase to three million.