GENEVA - World Food Program officials insisted Tuesday it won't reduce emergency aid shipments to Somalia despite allegations of fraud, saying that though such complaints are frequent it's highly unlikely there have been more than small losses.
WFP said it is bringing 5,000 tons a month of food into the capital of Mogadishu to help the famine-hit nation.
Lauren Landis, the new director of WFP's Geneva office, said it seems "implausible" that as much as half that amount is being diverted, responding to a report by The Associated Press. She said such a theft would be a huge logistical challenge.
"We don't have large losses of food aid because we have systems in place to take care of it. So allegations are not strange. Large losses of food is abnormal, because we know how to do this," Landis told AP.
But WFP must "go in there and look" at whether food aid is being systematically pilfered and sold in large quanties, possibly by contractors, at markets around Mogadishu, she said. Such worries are common with WFP operations in Somalia, and around the world.
"Probably every day someplace in Somalia, somebody calls up and says, 'I didn't get my full ration or something.' And we send a team in to investigate," Landis said.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said the mortality rate among young children at a camp for Somali refugees in Ethiopia has reached alarming levels, with an average of 10 children under five dying every day since the Kobe camp in southeast Ethiopia was opened in June.
The camp holds 25,000 refugees. A suspected measles outbreak combined with acute malnutrition is thought to be the cause of deaths, Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said.
Edwards told reporters that "this deadly combination has historically caused similar death rates in previous famine crises in the region."
Thousands of people are fleeing famine in Somali to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya each week.