| 19 April 2024, Friday |

UN agency joins US in suspending food aid to Ethiopia after diversions

A day after the United States declared it was doing the same, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Friday that it was suspending food assistance in Ethiopia owing to widespread contribution fraud.

The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in decades, and a two-year battle in northern Ethiopia that claimed tens of thousands of lives has left more than 20 million people in need of food assistance.

WFP has helped 7 million people affected by those two crises, while the United States is by far the biggest donor to Ethiopia, providing $1.8 billion in humanitarian assistance in 2022.

Neither WFP nor the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) gave details about the diversions of aid that led to their decisions.

But an internal briefing by a group of foreign donors, seen by Reuters, said USAID believes food has been diverted to Ethiopian military units as part of a scheme orchestrated by federal and regional government entities.

Spokespeople for Ethiopia’s government, military and foreign affairs ministry have not responded to Reuters requests for comment.

“Our first concern is the millions of hungry people who depend on our support, and our teams will work tirelessly with all partners to resume our operations as soon as we can,” WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain said in a statement.

McCain said she welcomed the Ethiopian government’s commitment to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the thefts, echoing comments made by U.S. officials on Thursday.

WFP said that nutrition assistance to children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, school meals programs and activities for building the resilience of farmers and pastoralists would continue uninterrupted.

USAID and WFP both suspended food aid last month to the northern region of Tigray where a two-year civil war ended in a ceasefire last November, saying large amounts of aid had been diverted and sold.

An aid worker in Tigray, where millions are hungry, said food stocks had been completely depleted as a result, leaving humanitarian agencies unable to help people displaced by the conflict.

  • Reuters