UN official admits faults in aid effort to Somalia

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

A SENIOR United Nations official admitted yesterday that efforts to bring food to Somalia's starving millions had been poorly co-ordinated.

'This is a process which will have to be improved upon,' said Muhammad Sahnoun, who is the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Somalia.

He was speaking at a news conference in Rome at which the World Food Programme (WFP) announced it would deliver a further 72,000 tonnes of food, worth dollars 26m (pounds 13.1m), to feed the nearly 2 million Somalis most in danger of starvation. This comes on top of 68,000 tonnes earmarked for Somalia four months ago, 40,000 tonnes of which have already been delivered.

The WFP, the UN's food aid agency, will in future co-ordinate all international shipments to Somalia under a Security Council resolution adopted in New York on Friday. The operations will be masterminded by its transport and logistics staff in Nairobi. Canada, the United States, France and Germany have offered aircraft to ferry the food to Somalia.

The UN operation in Somalia has been criticised, in particular by a senior official of Britain's Save the Children Fund, as ill-planned and badly equipped. There was 'a shameful degree of infighting between UN agencies which pursue their own interests', Mike Aaronson, the Fund's overseas director, said last week.

Mr Sahnoun admitted that better co-ordination was needed, especially since more donors were waking up to Somalia's plight. He said the international community had underestimated the disaster in Somalia but said that there had been an appreciable improvement in help over the past month.

Mr Sahnoun and Catherine Bertini, the WFP's executive director, spoke of the huge problems caused by looting of foodstuffs destined for the starving, but added that the 3,000 troops who are to reinforce the 500 soldiers already in Somalia should help to improve the situation.

Ms Bertini said she estimated that about half the food sent actually reached the hungry people - but that in fact, given the highly dangerous situation in the area, that was a 'very good' success rate. Mr Sahnoun said that coveted foodstuffs such as milk powder, oil, sugar and wheat flour were particularly at risk.