US says it has suspended all food aid to Ethiopia after investigation finds supplies diverted

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The United States Agency for International Development said it has suspended all food aid to Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, after an internal investigation found Supplies intended for people in need were being diverted on a “widespread” scale. He didn’t say by whom.

“After a countrywide review, USAID has determined, in coordination with the Ethiopian government, that a widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance from the people of Ethiopia,” the agency said in a statement sent. via email to The Associated Press on Thursday.

“As a result, we have taken the difficult but necessary decision not to proceed with the distribution of food aid until the reforms are in place.”

The United States is Ethiopia’s largest donor, providing $1.8 billion in humanitarian assistance, including food assistance, in fiscal year 2022. A total of 20 million people in Ethiopia depend aid due to conflict and drought, out of a total population of around 120 million.

An internal memo prepared by a group of humanitarian donors and seen by the AP highlighted the involvement of the Ethiopian federal government in the diversion of food aid.

“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. .

Spokespersons for the Ethiopian federal government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The document says USAID staff have visited 63 flour mills in seven of Ethiopia’s nine regions since March and witnessed “significant diversion of USAID-funded humanitarian food” alongside food donated by France, Japan and Ukraine.

USAID’s announcement comes after USAID and the United Nations World Food Program said last month they had suspended aid to Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region while they investigate allegations aid theft, which were first reported by the AP in April.

The Tigray region was the center of a devastating two-year conflict that ended in November and left 5.4 million out of 6 million people dependent on humanitarian aid.

A May 3 USAID document says its investigators discovered 2,000 metric tons of USAID-branded wheat – enough to feed 134,000 people for a month – for sale at a market in the town of Shire, Tigray, in March. Investigators also found USAID grain for sale elsewhere in the region, according to the document.

With food aid suspended in the region, doctors in Tigray have reported an alarming increase in hunger. Cases of child malnutrition increased by 28% from March to April at the region’s flagship hospital, Ayder, in Mekelle, the provincial capital, while at Axum hospital they increased by 96% in during the same period, according to admissions data reviewed by the AP.

Simret Niguse, a pediatrician in Ayder, said seven children died of acute malnutrition in hospital last month. Among them was a 6-month-old baby whose mother could not produce milk “because of hunger”, she said.

Acting US Ambassador to Ethiopia Tracey Ann Jacobson and Mike Hammer, US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, visited Tigray this week. The region’s acting president, Getachew Reda, said he discussed with them the allegations of aid diversion.

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