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US suspends food aid to Ethiopia, says it’s not reaching needy

US suspends food aid to Ethiopia, says it's not reaching needy

NAIROBI, June 8 (Reuters) – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Thursday it was suspending food aid to Ethiopia as its donations were being diverted to people in need.

The spokesperson said in a statement that USAID has determined, in coordination with the Ethiopian government, that “a widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food aid away from the people of Ethiopia.”

The statement did not say who is behind the campaign.

The United States is by far the largest humanitarian donor to Ethiopia, where more than 20 million people are in need of food aid, mostly due to drought and the recently ended war in the northern Tigray region.

According to an internal briefing by a group of foreign donors to Ethiopia seen by Reuters, USAID believes the food was diverted to Ethiopian military units.

“The scheme appears to have been organized by federal and regional government entities, with military units across the country benefiting from humanitarian aid,” the Humanitarian and Resilience Donor Group (HRDG), which includes USAID, said in a document.

Spokesmen for the Ethiopian government and military did not immediately respond to requests for comment. USAID declined to comment on the report.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the issue with Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen on the sidelines of a conference in Saudi Arabia.

The State Department said afterward that Blinken welcomed the Ethiopian government’s commitment to work with the United States to conduct a full investigation.

A USAID spokesperson said the agency intends to resume providing food aid as soon as it is confident of the integrity of the system.

USAID and the UN World Food Program (WFP) already suspended food aid to Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region last month in response to reports that large amounts of aid were being diverted there.

The two-year war in Tigray between the federal government and forces led by the region’s dominant political party ended with a ceasefire in November after killing tens of thousands of people and creating famine-like conditions for hundreds of thousands.

In fiscal year 2022, USAID disbursed nearly $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Ethiopia, mostly food aid.

The HRDG briefing document, circulated to donors on Wednesday, recommended that the Ethiopian government allow donors to deliver aid through “alternative modalities” such as cash transfers.

He also urged donors to call on the Ethiopian government to issue a public statement condemning the diversion and demanding that aid workers not be mistreated.

Ethiopia’s food crisis has deepened in recent years as a result of the war in Tigray and the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in decades.

WFP is also investigating “systemic” food diversion across Ethiopia, according to an email sent by the agency’s deputy director to staff in Ethiopia last week.

A WFP spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Christina Fincher and Mark Potter

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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