MOGADISHU (AlertNet) - Nurto Isak’s food rations are feeding her, her three children, and — she suspects — the militiamen guarding the camp in Mogadishu where she and other uprooted Somalis have taken refuge.
The city is host to more than 180,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who, like Isak, have fled a killer combination of conflict, drought and hunger back home.
Many risk long, difficult journeys to reach the capital, their sights set on the numerous aid agencies that have set up relief operations to hand out food and treat malnutrition there.
Yet many people at various IDP settlements in the war-torn city complain that food aid is not reaching them and accuse local aid workers working for international and Somali NGOs of taking it to line their own pockets.
“Half of the rations intended for our camp is given to the warlord whose militia are said to be guarding us,” Isak told AlertNet (www.trust.org/alertnet), a humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Many of the displaced said women were being raped in camps, while others lamented a lack of jobs, health clinics and schools despite the increased presence of aid groups.
Six months after famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the Horn of Africa country remains in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, with 4 million people in need of aid, according to U.N. figures.
However, fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels, combined with attacks on aid workers and a history of aid being manipulated for political gain, means Somalia is one of the toughest countries for relief agencies to operate in.
As such, it is a classic case study of the obstacles to effective aid as highlighted in an AlertNet poll of 41 leading relief agencies published on Thursday.
In the survey, more than half the experts cited increasingly complex disasters as one of the biggest challenges to aid delivery — with the use of aid as a political weapon and violence against relief workers also featuring highly.
Last month two staff working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were shot dead by a colleague in Mogadishu, while earlier this month the International Committee of the Red Cross suspended food distribution to 1.1 million people after al Shabaab rebels blocked deliveries to areas under the militant group’s control.
“This is one of the most complex environments for humanitarians,” said U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, in response to the claims by displaced people that food rations were being sold by local aid workers.
“Despite continued efforts to strengthen our monitoring systems, allegations still and will continue,” he said in a statement to AlertNet.
Some of the IDP camps — little more than a clutch of flimsy shelters made of sticks and cloth — are directly and indirectly run by government forces or warlords linked to the government, residents say.
Shukri Aden, a resident at another camp, said she had witnessed traders buying food supplies directly from a number of local staff working for NGOs and aid agencies responsible for distributing food in her camp.
“Traders park their cars and lorries beside the camp when it is food distribution day,” the mother of six said.
Once a month residents of the camps are handed a card that allows them to collect 25 kg of rice, 25 kg of wheat flour, 10 kg of sugar and 5 liters of cooking oil, Aden said.
But often they are pressured into handing their rations to a local aid worker who pays them around $5 each — hardly enough to buy food for a day.
The aid worker then sells the food at a marked-up price to a trader, earning thousands of dollars in profits, she said.
“They give us cards to take food but we rarely receive the ration,” said Aden, who has taken to begging and washing clothes to scrape together a few more shillings to feed her family.
A few miles away in Dinsoor IDP camp, Kadija Mohamed, 36, told AlertNet she was raped.
“Three armed men in government uniform came into the camp. The strongest one shone a powerful torch in my eyes, he strangled me and then raped me in front of my crying kids,” she said.
Mohamed, a widow, said she waited for sunrise before making her way to a nearby clinic only to be told there were no doctors.
“Later the camp leaders brought me some painkillers. Now I’m OK but I do not know what diseases I caught from the rape. I have nowhere to go for a check-up,” Mohamed said. “We live in these makeshift shelters. We have no aid agency or government to protect us at night. We are at God’s mercy.”
Isak also said rape was common in her camp.
“They rape even mothers at gunpoint at night — and we are threatened to death should we disclose it,” she said. “The makeshift shelters have no lockable doors, so these men just come in at night and lie on you.”
In its January 18 report, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said sexual violence against women and girls was continuing in Somalia. It also said security in the IDP settlements was insufficient and at risk of deteriorating.
Mohamed’s brother, Macalim Ibrahim, 40, reserved his biggest criticism for government officials and local aid workers.
“These local aid workers are building houses with the sale of food intended for the poor displaced people like us,” he told AlertNet. “We are deprived and yet have no government or aid agencies to ask for help.”
He also questioned the effectiveness of some of the aid that has been given.
“Many NGOs come, take our photos, and never come back. For example, one aid agency came and erected this school building made of iron sheets,” Ibrahim said.
“We brought our kids to the school but it did not work more than 7 days. The guys took footage of the kids at school and never came back. And the teachers disappeared.
“Other aid agencies came and built these latrines. That is good but a hungry man never goes to the toilet. We need food and water to survive,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Katy Migiro in Nairobi)
(AlertNet is a humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit www.trust.org/alertnet)
Writing by Katie Nguyen; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall