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News: Amid rising death by starvation, USAID sees no definite timeline for Ethiopia food aid resumption

The Emohoy Tsega Girma Charity Organization in Aby Adi town in Tigray assisting displaced civilians who are flocking to the organization in large numbers due to the suspension of humanitarian aid. Photo: Tigray TV

By Alemitu Homa @alemituhoma

Washington D.C. – Three months into the decision by the USAID and WFP to suspend food aid delivery to Ethiopia following the discovery of massive food aid diversion, a top USAID official said there is no definite time to resume the suspended aid delivery but investigations and discussions are still on going.

Addressing the topic of aid suspension during a briefing this week to reporters from Africa who are attending Foreign Press Reporting tour at Foreign Press Center in Washington D.C., Janean Davis, Deputy Assistant Administration for the Bureau of Africa, said that investigations were still underway and reform agendas have been provided to the Ethiopian government outlining ways of resuming the humanitarian assistant.  

“We have outlined for Ethiopia the reforms that are needed for the assistance to be resumed and [are] working as fast as we can to make sure that they are resumed as quickly as possible,” Ms Davis responded to a question from Addis Standard, adding that the matter was “a priority for our agency to make sure that we can move as quickly as possible, but also with this critical humanitarian assistance, as well as with all of our systems to help to make sure that the support gets to those who are most in need.”

Calling the pause “a difficult decision,” she said that whenever the USAID sees “assistance going away from its intended purpose, it’s a challenging decision… because our primary focus is to support the people of that country and trying to make decisions that do the least amount of harm to those people.”

The USAID is taking into account the preliminary investigation report published by the Tigray interim Administration and is assessing “all of the reports available to us to help us to be able to make the decision,” Ms Davis further said.

In June this year, after earlier announcement of the suspension of food aid delivery both by the USAID and WFP, an internal memo obtained by Addis Standard revealed that the result of an “extensive monitoring” over the course of two months conducted by USAID, the single largest food aid provider to Ethiopia, has identified “a country-wide diversion scheme primarily targeting donor-funded food commodities” and is “a coordinated and criminal scheme, which has prevented life-saving food assistance from reaching the most vulnerable.”

The “scheme appears to be orchestrated” by federal and regional governments entities, “with military units across the country benefiting from humanitarian assistance. Private grain and flour traders and operators have also played a role in the scheme,” the memo reads.

The revelation prompted a joint US-Ethiopia statement announcing commitment to address “deeply concerning revelations of food aid diversion in Ethiopia.” In the statement both governments pledged to conduct investigations and hold perpetrators to account. But there has not been official follow up updates on the outcomes of the announcement since then.

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The humanitarian group operating in Ethiopia recommended the Ethiopian government to implement a litany of measures including “making public statement condemning the humanitarian aid diversion and demanding that humanitarian staff throughout Ethiopia not be harassed in any way,” to identifying and dismantling the “organized structures orchestrating the diversion scheme(s).”

But the only follow up report published so far is that of the preliminary findings by the Tigray regional state interim administration covering the diversion in the region, which covers only one of the seven regional states where the mass food aid theft took place.state. According to the report, the federal government entities have diverted over 4300 metric tons of wheat, close to 130,000 liters of cooking oil and 4,187 quintals of peas, whereas the Eritrean forces have diverted close to 2900 metric tons of wheat, over 43 thousand liters of cooking oil and 1,440 quintals of peas which were meant to be for the needy. The Tigray regional authorities have diverted close to 1500 metric tons of wheat, 42,759 liters of cooking oil and 1,424 quintals of peas.

Hunger related death has since been rising especially in the Tigray region, which has already been hit hard during Ethiopia’s two years atrocious war.

This week, the VOA Amharic cited Tigray Region’s Disaster Risk Management Commission as saying that said in the last three months alone following the food aid delivery interruptions more than 1000 people have died of starvation. Those severely affected include IDPs, women, children and the elderly. “People are dying of starvation in the 21st century,” G/Egziabher Aregawi, the director, said.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also said it was “concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in regions that host the largest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) such as Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, Somali, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP) and Tigray regions.” The reduction in recent months of humanitarian assistance has worsened “the already dire humanitarian situation in most regions,” EHRC said.

The Commission urged the Ethiopian government and concerned humanitarian actors “to urgently finalize putting in place the necessary measures to ensure the proper distribution of humanitarian assistance and to immediately resume adequate, timely, and responsive (to the special needs of vulnerable groups) humanitarian assistance.”

Several aid organizations and religious institutions have also criticized the decision to suspend food aid delivery to Ethiopia, which is home to more than 20 million people across the country in need of food assistance, and are calling for immediate resumptions. AS

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