Misappropriation of aid

FILE- In this Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, file photo, a mother feeds her malnourished child at a feeding centre run by Doctors Without Borders in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Thousands of children already have died of starvation and disease in Boko Haram-ravaged northeastern Nigeria, Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday quoting a new survey that is forcing Nigerian officials out of a state of denial. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)

Where is our humanity? Do we only strive only to preserve our own ends while our brothers, sisters and children suffer a most agonising end? Do we just look away or bury or heads in the sand?

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. “And they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 42% of the population is living at less than $1.90, the World Bank’s international line for extreme poverty. Those experiencing poverty to this extent can often feel a lack of control over their own outcomes and circumstances. With 42% of Sub-Saharan Africa living in extreme poverty, billions of people may be experiencing a reduced understanding of their own potential.

Our world currently accommodates roughly 7.7 billion people, countless of which find themselves in the grip of poverty, hunger and disease, and yet the aid allocated to these fading souls are ruthlessly misappropriated by corrupt officials and merciless commanders. International aid sent to these areas has regularly failed to reach its intended recipients; instead, armed groups plunder the consignments of aid and to militants on the ground, international aid appears to be seen as a means of profit. These groups withhold food from civilians considered traitorous, steal aid packages to feed themselves and sell aid shipments on the black market.

In the case of Venezuela, tons of US aid is piling up in Colombia close to the border with President Nicolas Maduro hitting out at the United States for “stealing” billions of dollars and offering “crumbs” in return as humanitarian aid. “It’s a booby trap, they’re putting on a show with rotten and contaminated food,” said Maduro. Maduro asked the military to prepare for a “special deployment” to reinforce the border with Colombia — and make it impregnable so that no US aid may enter the country. The country is in the midst of an economic crisis that has left millions in poverty and facing shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine. This type of behaviour by authoritarian leaders highlights the self-interested attitude these leaders encourage using their supremacy to influence the thinking and attitude of the society of which they instruct.

In Somalia, United Nations officials predict that the famine occurring in several areas of the south will soon spread, the consequence of one of the worst droughts in 60 years and relentless conflict. They say 3.2 million people need immediate, lifesaving assistance and tens of thousands have already died, most of them children. However, undisciplined and heavily armed government soldiers continue to be a problem. Government soldiers battle each other to steal emergency food, killing innocent people in the middle of camps for displaced persons. The United Nations World Food Program is investigating allegations that vast quantities of grain and other supplies intended for famine relief have been stolen by unscrupulous businessmen and then sold on the open market for a profit.

Nigeria has set the perfect example, dealing with these miscreants by sentencing them to significant jail time. The Premium Times reported that a Borno State High Court sentenced two men to two years in prison for stealing rice donated by foreign donors to internally displaced persons. In addition to their jail terms, they also fined N2 million (R 79 000) each. Prosecuting witnesses told the court that the bags of rice were those donated to the IDPs by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and were marked not for sale.

One way the United Nations and its local partners are trying to combat the pilfering of food is by serving individual portions at special centers, as opposed to just handing out sacks of grain. The World Food Program, which has said that it will not cut back on aid deliveries because of the allegations of theft, is also asking contractors to pay them back for any food that was not delivered. They added that the stealing of food aid was a longstanding and deeply rooted problem.

So then, how does a community combat these indiscretions? How do regular citizens make a difference? Can we make a difference at all? I’m not sure, but we can begin by being aware of what is happening. Not only surrounding this topic but similarly around other challenges facing our society today. With awareness comes the ability change our behaviour, to make a constructive impact on the lives of those less privileged than ourselves. We need not travel to war and disease ravaged countries to battle insurgents who are pilfering foreign aid. We can make a difference here and now.

Craig Mudaly has over 16 years experience in the forensic audit and investigation sector. He has worked extensively in large private and public sector forensic audits including large state owned entities, including some of the largest frauds in South African history.