US resumes food aid to refugees in Ethiopia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is resuming food aid to refugees in Ethiopia after assistance was paused earlier this year because donations were being diverted, a senior U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official said.

Ethiopia’s food crisis has deepened in recent years as a result of war in the Tigray region and the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in decades.

“The resumption of food assistance to refugees will save lives and alleviate suffering for some of the most vulnerable,” the official said.

The decision to resume the aid was made after the implementation of strengthened reforms that the Ethiopian government and partners made to the refugee food assistance structure, including strengthened program monitoring, reinforced commodity tracking and improved registration processes, the official said.

The decision will impact dozens of refugee sites around Ethiopia, the official said. None of them are in Tigray, where a two-year war between the federal government and forces led by the region’s dominant political party ended in a truce in November last year after killing tens of thousands of people and creating famine-like conditions for hundreds of thousands.

A second USAID official said there are 1 million refugees in Ethiopia that will be affected, including populations from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and elsewhere.

Assistance for other food-insecure people in Ethiopia remains paused until Washington has assurances it will reach its intended beneficiaries, the senior official said, adding that they continue to work with the Ethiopian government on additional reforms.

USAID said in June it was suspending food aid to Ethiopia because its donations were being stolen.

A spokesperson at the time said USAID had determined, in coordination with the Ethiopian government, that a “widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance from the people of Ethiopia.”

In the 2022 fiscal year, USAID disbursed nearly $1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, most of it food aid.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said in August it had resumed distributing food aid in parts of the Tigray region after a three-month pause.

WFP paused food aid to the northern region in May following reports of widespread theft of donations. It then suspended aid to all of Ethiopia in June.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)