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The World Food Program is slowly resuming food aid to Ethiopia after months of suspension and criticism

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The United Nations World Food Program is slowly resuming food aid to Ethiopia nearly five months after it took the extraordinary measure of suspending aid to millions following the discovery of a massive plan to use donated grain. to steal. WFP said it is testing small-scale distribution in some areas, but acknowledges that the government still has a role in the process.

Critics of the aid suspension, including aid agencies and health workers, called it immoral and claimed hundreds of people died of starvation. However, the United States says its own suspension of food aid to the East African country will continue as it negotiates with the government of Ethiopia to reform a system long controlled by local authorities.

The pause affects 20 million Ethiopians – 1/6 of the population – plus 800,000 refugees.

In a written response to questions Monday night, the WFP told The Associated Press that on July 31, the agency began distributing wheat to about 100,000 people in four districts of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region while “improving controls and measures for delivering food aid test. Tigray is recovering from a two-year conflict with Ethiopian troops that ended in November.

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New WFP measures include digitally registering beneficiaries, marking grain bags, feedback hotlines and increased training for aid partners. The agency hopes to roll out its new distribution system to other parts of Ethiopia as soon as possible, WFP said, adding it is confident the measures will help ensure food reaches the people who need it most.

The WFP first halted food deliveries to Tigray in March after discovering the grain theft. In a single Tigray town, enough stolen food to feed 134,000 people for a month was found instead, for sale in markets, still marked with the American flag.

The suspension was extended to all of Ethiopia in June. The US, the largest humanitarian donor to both Ethiopia and the WFP, also cut off food aid.

US officials have said they believe the theft could be the largest diversion of donated food ever. Aid workers have told the AP that Ethiopian officials were deeply involved. The government of Ethiopia rejected the suggestion that it bears primary responsibility as harmful propaganda and agreed to a joint investigation.

Donors have recommended that the government of Ethiopia be completely removed from the aid system. But “WFP is working in Ethiopia at the request of the government and is working closely with the government of Ethiopia at all levels,” the UN agency said.

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The US Agency for International Development told the AP in a written response to questions that the resumption of WFP aid is not funded by the US, which is continuing the suspension. It noted that the WFP program is funded by the World Bank.

“We are determined to resume food aid as soon as possible once we can be confident that our aid is reaching the most vulnerable for the purpose it is intended for,” said USAID, adding that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to “progress on these issues.”

Some humanitarian groups and Ethiopian religious leaders have joined the call to resume food aid as soon as possible.

“People are starving. In Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, hundreds of people have died in recent weeks from starvation caused by food shortages. This is neither humane nor moral,” Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Alistair Dutton said in a July statement.

The US has told the AP it is shocked by reports of hunger.

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Responding to criticism, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said last month that “suspending food aid at a time of such vulnerability is an absolutely heartbreaking business that none of us would ever want to be a part of or have anything to do with. ” But she added that “you can’t rely on the food we bring to Ethiopia, which the American taxpayer pays for, to actually reach these vulnerable people.”

Ethiopian authorities were conducting an investigation, she said, and “there is criminal accountability and accountability, you know, for all the officials involved.”

The implications for the US are global. Proving that it can detect and stop the theft of aid paid for by US taxpayers is vital at a time when the Biden administration is fighting to maintain public support for aid to corruption-ridden Ukraine.

Power said she knew people were looking for an exact date when food aid would resume. “But we have come a very long way in a short time and our ambition, our sincere ambition, is to restart food aid as soon as possible,” she said.


Washington AP writer Ellen Knickmeyer contributed.

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