The United States will resume supplying food aid to millions of Ethiopians next month, following a five-month long suspension after aid agencies made allegations of widespread diversion of food aid by armed actors, regional as well as federal government bureaucrats in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions. The extensive theft scheme also implicated senior leadership at the UN’s World Food Programme, according to a report, by the the New Humanitarian in June, 2023. The senior officials were said to have resigned their position since, but not further details provided.
Ethiopian officials say they are investigating allegations that both regional and federal officials were implicated. The government was initially dismayed by demands from the United States that aid agencies draw up lists of the needy independently of government involvement, describing it as an infringement of Ethiopia’s sovereignty. However, after a series of back and forth negotiations with the USAID, it was agreed the government will draw up the lists “jointly” alongside aid groups and community members.
Accoding to the Washington Post, Getachew Reda, interim leader of the northern region of Tigray, said several dozen people had been charged with theft of food aid during and after the war — mostly low- and mid-level officials. Several hundred others are currently under investigation, but no further details have been provided. In late July of 2023, a report by Abren lamented the suspension of humanitarian assistance amid a forgotten investigation.
The revised agreement reached this month stipulates that the government will relinquish its responsibility for securing warehouses, transferring control to aid agencies. Additionally, the task of compiling lists of those in need will no longer be purely a function of the government. According to the Post, there will also be an expansion of third-party monitoring and verification. Furthermore, a new restriction prohibits a single individual from collecting food on behalf of multiple families, and each household is now equipped with a photographic identity card, scanned during the collection of rations.
These new rules will be tried and tested nationwide for one year during the resumption of humanitarian assistance. The plan will require continuous monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of reforms. According to the Washington Post, the Government of Ethiopia has committed to granting unimpeded access to USAID and third-party monitors for reviewing various sites. The agency welcomed these latest changes.
In October, the UN’s World Food Program resumed providing U.S.-funded food aid to 880,000 refugees hosted by Ethiopia, including those from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan. Some of these refugees have been living in largely UN run camps for decades. Others are more recent arrivals. For instance, in March, 2023, a UNHCR report indicated 100,000 new Somali refugees fleeing conflict in their home country arrived in Ethiopia. “The Ethiopian Government and local communities have generously welcomed the refugees, extending any help they can, but with the continuing arrivals, resources are already severely overstretched,” said Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s Regional Director for the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes Region.
However, the majority of aid recipients in Ethiopia are internally displaced persons. This number has spiked in recent years following domestic conflicts and droughts. At its peak in 2021 the number of IDPs was approximately 5.2 million people nationwide, according to the UN. That was about 4.5% of the total population. In July 2023, the UN’s reliefweb reported IDP numbers reduced to about 4.4 million as returnees increased.
Some of these aid recipients are residing in their home villages, but are too impoverished to afford more than one meal a day, according to USAID. In these areas, village committees, comprising women, youths, religious leaders, and others, determine aid eligibility based on specific criteria. The final shortlist is made public, allowing residents two days to appeal before distribution, offering either food or a monthly $25 cash allowance.
Before the suspension of international humanitarian aid in May 2023, Ethiopia held the position of the largest recipient of U.S food aid globally. In recent years the government has drawn up plans to provide improved conditions as well as more food security by modernizing farming and markets, but these are largely long terms plans that will likely take years.