The United States announced on Thursday that it will resume limited food assistance in Ethiopia, specifically targeting one million refugees. However, most aid operations will remain suspended due to concerns of aid diversion.
The US will immediately provide food assistance to 28 refugee camps in Ethiopia, which house mainly Sudanese, South Sudanese, Somali, and Eritrean refugees.
However, broader aid operations within Ethiopia, which is recovering from a devastating two-year war in Tigray, will remain on hold until additional measures are implemented to prevent aid diversion.
According to Jessica Jennings, spokesperson for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the assistance for other food insecure populations in Ethiopia will only recommence when there is assurance that it will reach its intended beneficiaries. USAID’s priority is to resume food assistance for those in need across all regions as soon as possible, pending the implementation of necessary reforms.
The decision to resume assistance to refugees comes after the Ethiopian government agreed to transfer the responsibility of storing and distributing food to aid workers at the camps. USAID had suspended all food aid to Ethiopia in June, citing concerns of a “widespread and coordinated” campaign to divert donated supplies.
The World Food Programme had also halted aid but resumed distribution in the war-torn Tigray region in August after implementing monitoring measures. It’s important to note that none of the refugee camps affected by USAID’s resumption are in Tigray. USAID aims to resume full assistance in Ethiopia by expanding third-party monitoring, conducting spot checks on vendors, and implementing biometric verification for recipients.
The Tigray conflict, which is estimated to have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, was halted by a peace deal signed in South Africa in November 2022. During the conflict, the United States accused Ethiopia of using food as a weapon, which strained relations with the government that was previously a close ally.
In June, UN agencies warned that approximately 60 million people in the Horn of Africa require food assistance due to armed conflicts, severe droughts exacerbated by climate change, and high global food prices influenced in part by the war in Ukraine.