The measure follows a UN report on the theft of humanitarian aid intended to feed insecure populations in the African country
The European Union has temporarily halted funding for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Somalia, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing two senior EU officials.
The move comes after a UN investigation reportedly discovered a rising trend of theft and misuse of aid intended to avert famine in the Horn of Africa, where the WFP predicted earlier this year that 6.6 million people would face crisis levels of hunger.
An anonymous senior EU official who spoke to Reuters claimed that the UN investigation found landowners, local governments, security personnel, and humanitarian workers all involved in the misappropriation of food aid meant for the food insecure population.
The aid will be restored once the WFP meets certain requirements, including the vetting of local partners in Somalia, according to the source.
According to UN data, the European Commission provided more than $7 million in assistance to the agency's humanitarian efforts in Somalia last year. While individual member states of the bloc are said to have given much more money on a bilateral basis, it is unclear whether any of them will follow suit by temporarily suspending aid.
Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the European Commission who neither denied nor confirmed the aid suspension, according to Reuters, said the bloc has not received information from its UN partners of a financial impact on EU-funded projects.
"Nevertheless, we will continue to monitor the situation and abide by our zero-tolerance approach to fraud, corruption or misconduct," Reuters quoted Ujvari as saying.
On Tuesday, Devex news outlet published the contents of a July report commissioned by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in which internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia claimed that certain authorities forced them to pay up to half of the cash assistance they received.
The local authorities, including the police, have implemented a taxation system on recipients of US-funded aid, with threats of arrest, physical violence, or withholding life-saving assistance for those who decline to comply, according to the "highly confidential" UN report.
The WFP and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) halted food shipments to Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray region in May, claiming that supplies were being diverted.
According to one of the senior EU officials interviewed by Reuters on Monday, the European Commission provides €10 million ($10.69 million) in support to Somalia and Ethiopia through the WFP.
USAID spokesperson Jessica Jennings said the US is working with partners to assess and understand the scope of the diversion in Mogadishu.
"[We] are already taking steps to protect beneficiaries and ensure tax-payer money is used to benefit vulnerable persons in Somalia, as intended," Devex quoted Jennings as saying.