The United States will resume food aid to refugees in Ethiopia, more than four months after suspending it because of large-scale diversions and theft of rations meant to feed millions of hungry people.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said on Thursday that it would restart the distribution of food aid to about a million refugees, most of them from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.
The agency said in a statement that food assistance to Ethiopia proper would remain suspended until further stipulations are met. The United Nations estimates that more than 20 million people are in need of food assistance in Ethiopia, which is still staggering from two years of civil war, a devastating drought and mounting economic challenges.
“Our assistance for other food insecure populations across Ethiopia remains paused until we have assurance it will reach its intended beneficiaries,” U.S.A.I.D. said in a statement. Other U.S.-funded programs in areas such as health care have carried on during the halt in food assistance.
The United States cut food aid to Ethiopia in June after discovering a coordinated plan by Ethiopian government officials to divert emergency food supplies and sell them to commercial mills and local markets. The United Nations World Food Program previously suspended operations in the northern Tigray region in late April after reporting a “significant diversion” of humanitarian aid. It then joined the United States in suspending all food aid to Ethiopia, but resumed food distribution in Tigray in August.
U.S.A.I.D. said that it was restarting food aid to refugees after the Ethiopian government and the humanitarian groups that deliver its food put in place measures to protect against theft. The Ethiopian government also handed over the task of warehousing and disbursing food to the humanitarian groups, the agency said.
The suspension of food aid to Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most-populous nation, was a blow to millions of people who were already facing dire food shortages, internal displacement and growing unemployment. The country is still recovering from a grueling two-year civil war between the government and Tigrayan rebels that ended last November. Both parties to the conflict, which left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced millions, were accused of carrying out atrocities that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The resumption of food aid to refugees comes just days after the European Union announced $680 million in financial support for Ethiopia, nearly three years after it ceased direct aid to the country because of the conflict in Tigray. The seven-year support package was initially supposed to be disbursed in 2021, but it was suspended after the conflict began.
The aid package is intended to bolster Ethiopia’s green transition and private sector, support development in the country, promote democratic governance, help with reconstruction efforts and provide basic services to the population, Jutta Urpilainen, the bloc’s commissioner for international partnership, said. The aid package does not include direct budgetary support to the government.
Almost a year after the country’s warring parties signed a deal to stop fighting, Ethiopia still remains fragile. The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, a United Nations group created in 2021, said in a report this week that there was a “high risk” of further atrocities. The commission’s mandate is set to expire next week amid concerns that it will not be renewed despite the grim picture painted in the group’s latest report.
“There is a very real and imminent risk that the situation will deteriorate further, and it is incumbent upon the international community to ensure that investigations persist so human rights violations can be addressed, and the worst tragedies averted,” Steven Ratner, an expert on the commission, said in a statement.
Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels.