The Course of Reason

Sometimes Full Donations Still Equal Empty Bellies

August 18, 2011

Food aid.

These two words tend to bring to mind a reminder of the fact that starvation and malnutrition are still a present day way of life for millions of people around the world. The solution seems simple, right? Donate money, acquire and distribute food, and eventually the starvation rate will go down. Surely the food will reach needy recipients, right? Right…?


It turns out that the food intended for those in need does not always reach its anticipated destination. Recently, allegations have come to the surface regarding thousands of sacks of grain being stolen in Somalia; these sacks are then sold in the open market by businessmen in the hopes of making a profit. The United Nations World Food Program is looking into these allegations in order to separate fact from fiction. Unfortunately, these allegations are, in my opinion, more likely to be fact than they are fiction.

It turns out that this situation of diversion of goods from Somali citizens to other “benefactors” is not new. Search for “food aid” and “Somalia” on the New York Times website, and you will find 116 articles that meet your search criteria. Almost all of these results showcase a plethora of issues regarding Somalia and food distribution starting as far back as 1992. In July of 1992, New York Times contributor Jane Perez reported that clashes between rival clans would more than likely result in an inability to deliver food to tens of thousands of Somali citizens in desperate need of food aid.

By March of 2010, Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times reported that it was common for half of the food aid intended for Somali citizens to be stolen. This figure came from a report by the United Nations Security Council’s Monitoring Group on Somalia. Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the president of Somalia, responded to the report by claiming that the report’s information “was not trustful” and was “based on people on the street, not [on] reality.” Yet several experts regarding the situation in Somalia claimed that the report’s findings were representative of the current situation. In May of 2010, a report by a United Nations Security Council found that approximately $243 million intended for food aid ended up being taken by corrupt Somali contractors, United Nations staff members, or Islamic militants. Still, Ahmed seemed to continue to keep his head buried in the sand regarding the corruption taking place in the very nation he is supposed to represent.

According to Mark Bowden, head of United Nations humanitarian operations in Somalia, emergency assistance for Somalia is short by $500 million. To me, this fact fails to be shocking when considering all of the havoc and corruption Somalia has experienced for the last 20 years. If you keep attempting to solve a problem merely by addressing its symptoms, the cause remains unaffected. By continually donating money to a corrupt system, that money merely feeds into that dysfunctional system. The United Nations is attempting to lessen the amount of grains stolen by feeding people individual servings of porridge instead of giving people entire sacks of grains. But I question: How practical is this? These people need FOOD; they need to be able to feed themselves, their immediate families, and their extended families. How practical is it to feed tens of thousands of people 3 individual meals a day? The amount of labor that would be required for this task would almost seem to surmount the need they’re trying to address in the first place.

The corrupt system itself needs to be addressed. Yes, to solve the problem of a corrupt system fed by unethical businessmen, militant Islamists, and even “confused” human aid workers is a monumental task. But to continue to attempt to improve the system by merely contributing more money to a long-failing system—to me, the people who blindly give to that corrupt system are as much at fault as the perpetrators. We need to stand up for Somalia’s citizens by letting the food aid organizations know that we will not continue to support a system that solves its problems by adding more fuel to the flame. Simply letting other people know about this dire situation taking place in Somalia will help to change the corruption taking place. To me, awareness solves many more problems than donation given in blind haste ever will.



About the Author: Gina Colaianni

Gina Colaianni's photo

Gina Colaianni is a senior psychology undergraduate student at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. When she isn't pondering the existential crises taking place in the world today, she can be found reading, attending secular and skeptic meetups, or working towards her goal of attending graduate school through the process of blogging about her personal failures, successes, and shortcomings.




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