UN suspends food aid to Ethiopia over diversion of supplies, a day after US did the same

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The United Nations World Food Program said on Friday it was temporarily suspending food aid to Ethiopia because its supplies were being diverted, an announcement that came a day after the United Nations United States for International Development said it was doing the same.

“The diversion of food is absolutely unacceptable, and we welcome the commitment of the Ethiopian government to investigate and hold those responsible accountable,” said WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain. The program’s headquarters in Rome declined further comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Some 20 million Ethiopians depend on food aid due to drought and conflict, out of a population of around 120 million. Much of the aid comes from USAID and the World Food Program.

The suspensions have raised fears of an increase in malnutrition in Africa’s second most populous country,

USAID, WFP and the Ethiopian government did not specify who is responsible for the diversion of food, which the United States described as “widespread and coordinated”.

However, an internal memo prepared by a group of foreign donor representatives and seen by the AP this week highlighted the government’s involvement.

“The program appears to be orchestrated by Ethiopian federal and regional government entities, with military units across the country benefiting from humanitarian assistance,” said the document from the Humanitarian and Resilience Donor Group, which includes bilateral and multilateral partners. .

In a joint statement with USAID on Thursday, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry spoke of “deeply concerning revelations” and said it was investigating with the United States “so that the perpetrators of such hijackings are held accountable.”

The nationwide food aid suspensions follow USAID and WFP saying last month they had suspended food deliveries to Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region while they investigate. on reports of food aid thefts. The region is recovering from a two-year conflict.

This suspension by the World Food Program and allegations of aid diversion to Tigray were first reported by the AP. Some 5.4 million of the region’s 6 million people depend on humanitarian aid.

Earlier this year, USAID Administrator Samantha Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the flight of aid to Tigray appeared to “involve collusion between parties on both sides” of the conflict, which s ended in November.

In its Friday statement, the WFP said it was pursuing other programs in Ethiopia for drought-affected children, mothers and pastoralists.

“WFP is working closely with its UN and humanitarian partners and local stakeholders to reform the way assistance is delivered across Ethiopia and in all high-risk operational contexts where we work,” he said. -he declares.

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