US ends suspension of food assistance to Ethiopia

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FILE PHOTO: Maeru Adugna, 45 carries her son, Kibrom Woldesillasie, 2, severely malnourished due to the food aid suspension from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) at the Samre Hospital in Samre, Tigray Region, Ethiopia, June 23, 2023. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

The United States has ended its suspension of food aid to Ethiopian refugees after four months following strengthened reforms made by the Ethiopian government in the food assistance structure.

Food aid was paused by the U.S. in June because donations were being diverted, a senior U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official told Reuters.

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

Ethiopia’s food crisis worsened as a result of drought and the two-year war in the Tigray region between the federal government and forces led by the region’s dominant political party that 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 spokesperson at the time of the suspension of aid 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.”

The action affected 1 million refugees in Ethiopia, including populations from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and elsewhere, a second USAID official said.

Efforts made by the Ethiopian government and partners to the refugee food assistance structure, including strengthened program monitoring, reinforced commodity tracking and improved registration processes led to the resumption of food aid, a USAID official said.

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.

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.

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