UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations is investigating the possible theft of food from supplies shipped to Somalia to counter a famine that has killed tens of thousands of people, a spokesman said Monday.
The UN's World Food Program will "suspend any parties found responsible" working within the agency, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters. The United Nations has not said how much food may have been stolen.
The announcement of the investigation came on the day that the UN Security Council made an urgent call for governments to respond to a $2.4 billion UN appeal to counter the drought in East Africa.
More than 12.4 million people are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations' emergency relief coordination agency.
"In response to reports of food aid being stolen, the World Food Program says that through its monitoring systems, possible theft of food has been uncovered and is being investigated," Haq told a briefing.
The WFP "will investigate all alleged instances and suspend any parties found responsible," he added.
The agency has "rigorous monitoring and controls" in Somalia, but "due to security dangers and restrictions, humanitarian supply lines remain highly vulnerable to looting, attack and diversion by armed groups," Haq said.
Somalia's transitional government said it was also "investigating the reports," adding that there were no firm figures on the scale of any thefts.
"The government has a zero tolerance policy towards corruption or crimes against food aid," said a statement, which highlighted past convictions of looters who had stolen from the main Mogadishu market.
The government said reports of thefts "should not be used as an excuse to slow down aid delivery as that would condemn even more people to death from starvation."
A special force has been set up to protect food and distribution to camps.
The 15-member Security Council expressed "serious concern" in a statement that the UN famine appeal remains less than half-funded.
UN agencies are struggling to get aid to parts of Somalia that are controlled by Islamist insurgents, and the council warned "all parties and armed groups to ensure full, safe and unhindered access for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid."
Amid rising concerns about Somalia's future, with the famine adding to a crippling 20-year war, the Security Council gave "strong" backing to UN efforts to help the transitional government battling establish its authority.
Somalia political groups – but not the insurgents – are to meet next month to set out a government plan for the next 12 months with set targets for improving the performance of transitional federal institutions (TFIs).
"The members of the Security Council noted that future support to the TFIs would be contingent upon completion of the tasks in the roadmap," said the statement.
Somalia has had no effective government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.