Thousands of displaced Somalis rely on food aid from WFP
Up to half the food aid in Somalia is diverted to corrupt contractors, local UN workers and Islamist militants, a leaked UN report says.
The report, by the UN monitoring group in Somalia, is particularly critical of the UN's own World Food Programme and recommends an independent inquiry.
It says WFP contracts are awarded to a few powerful individuals who operate cartels that sell the food illegally.
The report has not been made public yet, but its contents have been leaked.
US funding cut
The UN document says food aid is diverted to a web of distributors, transporters and armed groups, with some local UN workers also taking a cut in the profits, the BBC's Barbara Plett reports from the UN.
It blames the problem on the food distribution system in the war-torn country, where transporters have to navigate roadblocks manned by various militias and bandits.
Extracts of the report have been quoted by the New York Times and by news agencies.
According to the leaks, the report says preliminary investigations by the monitoring group "indicate the existence of a de facto cartel".
The report says just three contractors receive the vast majority of WFP transportation contracts, making them "some of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in Somalia", the extracts say.
WFP, which provides most of the relief goods, says previous internal investigations have failed to find proof of widespread abuse but that it will examine the new allegations.
The UN secretary general's special representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, told the BBC he had seen the report, but that he believed the greatest need in Somalia was a stable and internationally supported government.
"With a... government we would avoid this loss [of aid], not only of 50% but of 5%," he said.
"We have to go to the root cause of the problem, which is [the] lack of a supported government. We have a government - why don't we support it?"
Charges that food aid was being diverted first surfaced in 2009. The US has since reduced funding to Somalia, fearing that aid was falling into the hands of the Islamist group al- Shabab.
The World Food Programme has also struggled to keep up with food deliveries.
Last month, al-Shabab banned the food agency from operating in Somalia.
WFP said it had already announced a suspension of its work in the southern part of the country because of attacks and extortion by local militants.
The report is due to be officially presented to the UN Security Council on 16 March.