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U.N. running out of food aid for Somalia

By Ariel David
Sunday, November 8, 2009

ROME -- The United Nations says it is running out of food for millions of starving Somalis, in part because the United States is delaying aid amid fears it could be intercepted by militants linked to al-Qaeda.

Last month, the U.N. World Food Program began cutting rations by up to half for some people in the lawless, impoverished East African nation, and it will run out of supplies in December, the Rome-based agency said Saturday.

"WFP's food assistance supply line to Somalia is effectively broken," said Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for the agency in Nairobi. "The pipeline break is partly because [the U.S. government] has delayed U.S. assistance to Somalia."

The U.S. State Department confirmed it had concerns that militants could get their hands on humanitarian assistance and had suspended food shipments.

"Renewal of some U.S. non-food humanitarian programs was delayed while we reviewed conditions on the ground and their impact on our programs," said Laura Tischler, a State Department spokeswoman.

"U.S. food aid deliveries to Somalia were temporarily suspended while we conducted our review," she said. "However, the food aid pipeline for Somalia has not been broken."

The aid shortfall was first reported Friday by the New York Times.

Other factors contributing to the problem include a drop in donations caused by the world economic crisis and an increased need for aid across the Horn of Africa, Smerdon said.

The United States is the U.N. Food Program's largest donor, providing about half of the food aid the agency delivers to 2.2 million people in Somalia. The country has been crippled by 18 years of civil war, an Islamic insurgency, high food prices and drought.

Smerdon said that representatives from the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies were discussing with U.S. officials and other donor countries measures that would prevent aid from being diverted to al-Shabab, the Islamist militant group that controls much of southern Somalia.

"WFP understands the concern of the United States and other donors regarding the appropriate utilization of resources in Somalia," Smerdon said. "We remain hopeful that the United States will continue to fund food relief programs in Somalia, understanding the difficult and complex political and operational environment in which agencies such as WFP must work."

-- Associated Press

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