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Friday, September 15, 2006

Western agencies waste money in Somalia: Islamists

JOWHAR, Somalia (Reuters) - A top Islamist has accused Western aid agencies of squandering funds on luxury cars and fancy houses instead of helping the poor.

The stinging attack came from Sheikh Osman Mohamed -- chairman of the newly powerful Islamists' Middle Shabelle administration based in the agricultural town of Jowhar -- who was angered at the lack of response to recent floods.

"These aid agencies are misusing funds allocated by donors to the needy Somali people," Mohamed told reporters late on Thursday in Jowhar, north of the capital Mogadishu.

"The aid agencies are buying nice vehicles and building good houses while thousands of people are suffering."

Dozens of foreign agencies -- both from the West and Arab countries -- work in Somalia, one of the world's poorest and most conflict-riven countries.

Mohamed did not give names. But the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), French-based charity Medecins Sans Frontiers, and two Italian organizations all work in the Jowhar area.

Aid operations have been hindered by insecurity during 15 years of anarchy since warlords toppled former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. So resident Western aid workers generally live inside well-protected compounds.

They also use tough 4x4 vehicles to negotiate Somalia's often dilapidated roads, muddy tracks and sandy terrain.

The Islamists, who took a swathe of southern Somalia from warlords in June, have been holding preliminary meetings with U.N. and other aid agencies to discuss working together.


Mohamed said given the poor response to August floods that displaced hundreds of poor peasants, blocked roads and destroyed farmland, wealthy Somalis and Muslim agencies needed to come forward and help more.

UNICEF and the ICRC had only donated 30,000 empty sacks, or less than 2 percent of the $12,000 collected by locals and other well-wishers to repair river banks, he said.

Jowhar residents, some holding food rations donated by the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), said not all charitable organizations wasted money. "But it's true that some of the aid agencies are misusing funds," Abdi Nuh told Reuters as he waited to cross a flooded road in the outskirts of Jowhar.

Aid agencies in Jowhar declined to comment.

But Idris Mohamed, head of WFP in Mogadishu, told Reuters in reply to the sheikh's accusation that his organization was not mandated to rebuild river banks. "Our mandate is only to distribute food and that is what we are doing now," he said.

In Nairobi, WFP said it was "surprised" at the sheikh's generalized criticism given that it was involved in distributing 459 tons of food to more than 23,000 people in 22 villages in Middle Shabelle affected by flooding.

"Overall, WFP is trying to feed some 1.1 million people in southern Somalia and needs international support to do so," added WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon.

"So it is not in our interest to waste donor money by buying houses, misallocating funds and spending it on big cars. In fact, in southern Somalia all the vehicles used by WFP are rented to keep our costs down."
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