According to a report by Reuters news, a senior official from the U.N. World Food Programme announced on Monday that they aim to restart food aid distribution in Ethiopia, starting next month. The organization plans to regain control over the selection process of beneficiaries before resuming assistance. Earlier, the WFP had temporarily halted food aid in the Tigray region in May and then extended the suspension to the entire country due to the significant theft of donated supplies. Notably, these decisions coincided with the United States’ announcement of a similar action.
According to Valerie Guarnieri, the WFP’s Assistant Executive Director for Programme and Policy Development, the organization aims to decrease the influence of local and regional government officials in determining eligibility for food aid.
Guarnieri told Reuters.”We would want to have a much more direct involvement ourselves as WFP and our partner non-governmental organizations in the process of selecting beneficiaries,”
In addition, she mentioned that WFP investigators had detected shortcomings in the agency’s monitoring systems, particularly in the Tigray region. This area witnessed a significant influx of aid from donors following a peace agreement in November that marked the end of the war.
Guarnieri says the WFP has received positive feedback from the relevant authorities, indicating that assistance in Tigray region and refugee camps may recommence in the latter half of July 2023. She expressed hope that this development would prompt a resumption of distributions on a broader scale.
While the bulk of humanitarian activities remain paused, programs such as nutrition assistance for children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women, have remained unaffected.
The news report adds, the beneficiaries of the thefts have not been explicitly disclosed by either the WFP or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). However, an internal briefing conducted by a consortium of foreign donors revealed that USAID suspected that a portion of the stolen food aid might have ended up in the hands of Ethiopian military units. A previous news report had also implicated the Tigray regional security forces as well as Eritrean troops.
The Ethiopian government has expressed its commitment to investigating the allegations but has also criticized the aid reductions, arguing that they would exacerbate the existing humanitarian crisis. The Ethiopian army denied receiving any stolen food. Speaking to local media in the Amharic language, Legesse Tulu, spokesperson for the federal government said “there was no systematic diversion of aid to justify suspension, that will hurt even more people.” The next day, Meles Alem, spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs said, “nevertheless, this will not prevent certain entities from wanting to use diversion of aid as a tool and a pretext of diplomatic pressure”, referring to the USAID and WFP.
The Reporter, a private news organization based in Addis Ababa recently reported hunger is on the rise in parts of the Tigray region after aid was suspended. In a follow up report, it said up to one million refugees from neighboring countries, including Sudan and Somalia were awaiting aid operations to resume quickly. With the support of international aid organizations, Ethiopia shelters significant refugee populations from the Horn of Africa region.
Guarnieri clarified that she currently lacks information regarding the individuals responsible for diverting the aid and is eagerly awaiting the outcomes of ongoing investigations. She defended the WFP’s decision, emphasizing that it was necessary to guarantee the effective delivery of donations to those who truly require them. WFP maintains aid diversion was happening nationwide, including in Amhara and Afar regions, which have suffered extensive damage due to recent conflict.
Nonetheless, WFP’s goal of regaining control of the selection process for humanitarian aid beneficiaries will be politically fraught. During the two-year conflict, the Ethiopian government had argued for more control, citing several cases of aid diversion by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an armed insurgency authorities said, “was feeding its large army using diverted aid.”
Evidence of collusion between senior WFP officials in Ethiopia and the TPLF surfaced in September of 2021. The organization sidelined country chief of the UN’s Migration office Maureen Achieng, who in a leaked audio interview said, “UN higher-ups were sympathetic to Tigrayan Rebels.” Maureen’s revelation’s were virtually ignored by the mainstream media at the time, but led to a shack up of the aid organization’s structure in Ethiopia.
The New Humanitarian, an organization that has been critical of the government published a report on June 5, 2023, outlining resignation of senior WFP officials related to this latest diversion probe. The senior leadership at WFP in Ethiopia resigned, shortly before the findings of a probe into the misappropriation of food aid in the country are due to be made public. A report by Abren on June 6, 2023 discussed the matter in more detail. The WFP later said “officials had been temporary suspended, and not terminated”.