UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. humanitarian activities in Somalia are severely underfunded, hurting Somalis who are outside areas controlled by Islamist rebels, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.
Humanitarian coordinator Mark Bowden told reporters health, water and sanitation assistance for Somalia's massive population of internally displaced people, who fled conflict zones across the lawless Horn of Africa nation, was now "seriously underfunded."
"The lower funding that Somalia receives affects not only the al Shabaab-controlled areas," Bowden said. "It also has affected non-food programs across the country."
Somalia has been deprived of an effective central government and mired in violence since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
More than 40 percent of Somalis -- 3.4 million people -- need humanitarian assistance, including 1.4 million uprooted by a three-year insurgency waged by Islamist al Shabaab rebels who are targeting the government and African Union peacekeepers.
So far, this year's U.N. humanitarian aid appeal for some $596 million has generated $335 million, just over half, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Only 25 percent of the nearly $50 million requested for water, sanitation and hygiene aid has been supplied, it said.
The United States, Canada, Britain and Australia have reduced or frozen aid to Somalia, according to U.N. figures. The United States has only provided $15.2 million this year compared with $86 million last year and $211 million in 2008.
The main reasons for the decline in aid, diplomats and U.N. officials say, are the ongoing violence and concerns about whether aid is being diverted to al Shabaab and other groups.
A report submitted to a Security Council committee this year by a U.N. panel of experts that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions against Somalia said up to half the food aid for needy Somalis was being diverted to a network of corrupt contractors, al Shabaab militants and local U.N. staff.
Bowden said the United Nations had already begun taking steps to screen contractors before the expert panel's report was released in March to make sure they are legitimate.
He added that he had just delivered a report to the Security Council's Somalia sanctions committee that describes how the United Nations is dealing with concerns about "misappropriation, politicization and misuse of assistance."
Without giving details, Bowden said he had raised specific concerns about three of the 400 to 500 contractors that have been working with U.N. agencies in Somalia.
Bowden added that U.N. agencies in Somalia had established a policy of not paying fees to "non-state actors" -- a U.N. codeword for militant groups.
He added that they agreed the United Nations should not "participate in any mechanism that would provide legitimacy or financial support to listed organizations."
Al Shabaab and another Islamist militia have been fighting the Western-backed Somali government since the start of 2007. They control much of the capital but have failed so far to drive President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed from office.