Home Global News U.S. resumes assistance to Ethiopia after intense negotiations over corruption in aid program

U.S. resumes assistance to Ethiopia after intense negotiations over corruption in aid program

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U.S. resumes assistance to Ethiopia after intense negotiations over corruption in aid program

The United States will resume supplying food aid to millions of Ethiopians next month, a senior U.S. official told The Post on Tuesday, following a five-month suspension after alleging that a widespread and coordinated campaign was stealing large amounts of food aid.

A U.S. official confirmed that “dozens” of flour mills had stopped operating after the suspension, but investigations into the scale of the theft are not public. Ethiopian officials say they are investigating allegations that both regional and federal officials were implicated. But the government had reacted angrily to an initial demand from the United States that aid agencies draw up lists of the needy “independently” of government, describing it as an infringement on Ethiopian sovereignty. Now, the government will draw up the lists “jointly” with aid groups and community members.

Getachew Reda, president of the northern region of Tigray, said several dozen people had been charged with theft of food aid during and after the war — mostly low- and mid-level officials. Several hundred others are under investigation, he said. A federal spokesman was not available for comment.

Under the new agreement, the government will no longer be responsible for securing warehouses — which will be placed under aid agency control — or drawing up lists of the needy, an aid official said. Third-party monitoring will be expanded. One person will also no longer be allowed to collect food for a larger group of families, and each household has a new photographic identity card that is scanned when they collect their rations.

“USAID is committing to a one-year trial period of the nationwide resumption, during which we will continuously monitor and evaluate the efficacy of the reforms,” USAID said in an email. “The Government of Ethiopia has also committed to providing unimpeded access for USAID and our third-party monitors to review a wide range of sites.”

Before the suspension, Ethiopia was the biggest recipient of U.S. food aid globally, through two U.S.-funded programs — one administered by aid groups and one by the United Nations. The Horn of Africa nation needed food aid for about 20 million citizens — about a sixth of the population — after a civil war, drought and rampant inflation.

It’s still unclear how many Ethiopians will be receiving food aid, but the official said it would be “millions.” The U.N’s World Food Program resumed providing U.S.-funded food aid to 880,000 million refugees in Ethiopia — from nations such as Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan — in October.

At Alemwach refugee camp in the northern region of Amhara last month, home to around 20,000 Eritrean refugees, elderly and disabled residents shuffled to the front of the line to collect their rations at the first distribution since May. They had survived by selling their few items of clothing, or their blanket, or by begging. A committee of refugees clubbed together to form a once-a-day soup kitchen for the most vulnerable, but there wasn’t enough even for a quarter of the camp. A couple of women, clavicles sharp against their baggy dresses, said quietly that they had been forced to sell sex to feed their children.

In another refugee camp, Kumer, residents said some refugees had returned to the war zone of Sudan because there had been nothing to eat, and a cholera outbreak had killed eight refugees and sickened hundreds.

But the vast majority of aid recipients are Ethiopians. Some were forced to flee their homes by drought or conflict; more than 1 million people remain displaced in the northern region of Tigray. They have spent the past three years sleeping in overcrowded classrooms, where the women’s hollow cheeks and the children’s spindly limbs attest to their struggle finding food.

Other recipients are in their home villages, but so poor they cannot afford more than a meal a day. In those areas, the lists will be drawn up by a village committee with women, youths, religious leaders and others represented. They whittle down a list of all the inhabitants to see who qualifies for aid. The criteria vary by region, but in Amhara, anyone with a motorized vehicle, too many livestock, a government job or satellite TV is out — and those who qualify must meet at least two criteria from a list that includes having underage or elderly dependents, being handicapped, being HIV-positive or being a female-headed household.

The shortlist is then posted publicly, and residents have two days to make appeals before the list is finalized. Recipients can receive either food — distributed by an aid group working with WFP — or $25 in cash monthly.

In the town of Dabat, Silinet Arega, a 30-year-old divorced mother of four, said her family often had no food all day. She can earn a dollar a day cleaning houses a couple of days a week, but the work is irregular and rent is more than six dollars a month, she said. She was overjoyed to see her name on a list of recipients for aid — and said pointedly that the new system was far more transparent.

“I am so happy. We are so hungry. We need this food immediately,” she said.

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