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Black market takes Somali food aid

Thousands of sacks of food aid meant for Somalia's famine victims have been stolen and are being sold openly, depriving those who have flooded into the country's capital of urgently needed supplies, an investigation has found.

The UN's World Food Programme admitted it has been examining food theft in Somalia for two months. The WFP said that the "scale and intensity" of the famine crisis does not allow for a suspension of assistance, saying that doing so would lead to "many unnecessary deaths."

The UN says more 3.2 million Somalis - nearly half the population - need food after a severe drought that has been complicated by Somalia's long-running war. More than 450,000 Somalis live in famine zones controlled by al Qaida-linked militants, where aid is difficult to deliver. T

International officials have long expected some of the food aid pouring into Somalia to go missing. But the sheer scale of the theft taking place calls into question aid groups' ability to reach the starving.

It also raises concerns about the willingness of aid agencies and the Somali government to fight corruption, and whether diverted aid is fuelling Somalia's 20-year-civil war.

"While helping starving people, you are also feeding the power groups that make a business out of the disaster," said Joakim Gundel, who heads Katuni Consult, a Nairobi-based company often asked to evaluate international aid efforts in Somalia. "You're saving people's lives today so they can die tomorrow."

Vast piles of food sacks with stamps on them from the World Food Programme, the US government aid arm USAID and the Japanese government are for sale in Mogadishu markets. The Associated Press news agency 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.

WFP said in a statement that it has put into place "strengthened and rigorous" monitoring and control in Somalia.

"However, given the lack of access to much of the territory due to security dangers and restrictions, humanitarian supply lines remain highly vulnerable to looting, attack and diversion by armed groups," WFP said.

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