WFP hopes to resume some Ethiopia food aid distribution by July

By Aaron Ross

NAIROBI (Reuters) – The U.N. World Food Programme hopes to resume some food aid distribution in Ethiopia as soon as next month once it has received greater control over how beneficiaries are selected, a senior WFP official said on Monday.

It paused food aid to the northern Tigray region in May and then to all of Ethiopia this month in response to widespread theft of donations. In both cases, its announcements came just after the United States said it was doing the same.

More than 20 million people need humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, largely due to the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in decades and a two-year civil war in Tigray.

The WFP has been providing emergency food assistance to nearly 6 million of them.

Valerie Guarnieri, WFP assistant executive director for programme and policy development, said the agency wanted to reduce the authority of local and regional government officials to decide who qualified for food aid.

“We would want to have a much more direct involvement ourselves as WFP and our partner non-governmental organisations in the process of selecting beneficiaries,” Guarnieri told Reuters.

She said WFP investigators had identified weaknesses in the agency’s monitoring systems, particularly in Tigray, where donors surged aid after a November peace deal ended the war.

Assistance in Tigray and to refugee camps could resume by the second half of July after the WFP received positive feedback from the relevant authorities, Guarnieri said, adding she hoped that would spur a swift resumption of distributions more widely.

Other WFP programmes, including nutrition assistance to children, pregnant and breastfeeding women have not been affected by the aid pause.

Neither WFP nor the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have said who benefited from the thefts, but an internal briefing by a group of foreign donors said USAID believed some food has gone to Ethiopian military units.

Guarnieri said she had no information about who was behind the diversions and was awaiting the results of investigations.

Ethiopia’s government has said it is investigating the allegations but also criticised the aid cuts, saying they would deepen a humanitarian crisis. Ethiopia’s army has denied receiving stolen food.

Guarnieri defended WFP’s decision as necessary to ensure donations are reaching those who need them.

“I think the kind of reforms that are needed probably required a rather drastic step to undertake the changes,” she said.

(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Alison Williams)