ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The lead U.S. development agency plans to restart food aid deliveries for millions of people across Ethiopia in December, five months after it took the extraordinary step of halting its nationwide program over a massive corruption scheme by local officials.
U.S. Agency for International Development officials on Wednesday described wide-ranging new reforms in handling of food aid to the East African country to try to prevent a repeat of what they have said may have been the largest theft of food aid in history.
These anti-theft measures will be tested for one year, USAID spokesperson Jessica Jennings said, adding that they “will fundamentally shift Ethiopia’s food aid system and help ensure aid reaches those experiencing acute food insecurity.”
Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most populous country and one of the largest recipients of U.S. humanitarian aid due to droughts, conflict and other factors disrupting food supplies. About one-sixth of Ethiopians received food aid before discovery of the food theft early this year.
The suspension has affected 20 million Ethiopians. The AP has reported that hundreds, possibly thousands, of needy people have starved to death in the Tigray region since the suspension. A cease-fire a year ago ended a two-year conflict in Tigray.
The theft of U.S. and U.N. food aid included the manipulation of beneficiary lists that the Ethiopian government has insisted on controlling, looting by Ethiopian government and regional Tigray forces and forces from neighboring Eritrea, and the diversion of massive amounts of donated wheat to commercial flour mills in at least 63 sites, a senior USAID official earlier told the AP.
USAID and the U.N.’s World Food Program suspended food aid to Ethiopia’s Tigray region in mid-March after uncovering the colossal scheme. The two agencies halted their programs across the country in early June after discovering the theft was nationwide. They blamed conflict in the country for interrupting their oversight of aid delivery.
The planned resumption of aid comes after the agency reintroduced reforms to improve the registration of beneficiaries and the tracking of donated grain, Jennings said Tuesday.
New measures range from on-the-ground GPS tracking of food delivery trucks and spot checks of grain warehouses and mills to insisting that USAID’s humanitarian partners share joint approval with Ethiopian officials of the beneficiary lists for donated grain and other food aid, USAID said.
In another potentially crucial step, the World Food Program and the Catholic Relief Services humanitarian organization will take over handling of warehouses, commodities and distributions in programs and regions formerly handled by the Ethiopian government, USAID said.
The agency previously sought to remove Ethiopian government officials from having any role in aid processes to stem corruption.
The WFP restarted aid to refugees in Ethiopia in October but is yet to resume food aid nationwide.