US resumes aid to Ethiopia after intense talks over aid corruption program

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The United States will begin providing food aid to millions of Ethiopians next month, a senior US official told The Post on Tuesday, following a five-month suspension after what he alleged was a campaign widespread and coordinated theft of large amounts of food aid.

A US official confirmed that “dozens” of flour mills had stopped working after the ban, but investigations into the scale of the theft are not public. Ethiopian officials say they are investigating allegations that regional and federal officials were involved. But the government had reacted angrily to an initial request from the United States that aid agencies draw up lists of needs “independently” of the government, describing it as a violation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty. Now, the government will prepare the lists “together” with aid organizations and community members.

Getachew Reda, president of the northern region of Tigray, said several dozen people were charged with stealing food aid during and after the war – mostly low- and mid-level officials . Several hundred more 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 acquiring warehouses – which will be put under the control of an aid agency – or drawing up lists of needy people, an aid official said. A third-party audit will be extended. One person will no longer be allowed to collect food for a larger group of families, and each household will have a new photo ID card that will be scanned when they collect their rations.

“USAID is committing to a one-year trial period of the national restart, during which we will continuously monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the reforms,” ​​USAID said in an email. The Ethiopian government has also committed to providing unfettered access to USAID and our third-party monitors to review a wide range of sites.”

Before it was suspended, Ethiopia was the recipient of US food aid globally, through two US-funded programs – one administered by aid agencies and one by the United Nations. The Horn of Africa country needed food aid for about 20 million citizens – about a sixth of the population – after civil war, drought and rampant inflation.

It is not yet clear how many Ethiopians will receive food aid, but the official said it would be “millions”. The UN’s World Food Program resumed providing US-funded food aid to 880,000 million refugees in Ethiopia – from nations such as Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan – in October.

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

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

But the majority of aid recipients are Ethiopians. Some were forced to flee their homes due to drought or conflict; more than 1 million people remain displaced in the northern region of Tigray. They have spent the last three years sleeping in overcrowded classrooms, where the weak cheeks of the women and the electric limbs of the children prove that they are struggling to find food.

There are other recipients in their hometowns, but so poor they can’t afford more than food a day. In these areas, the lists will be drawn up by a village committee with women, youth, religious leaders and others represented. They put down a list of all the residents to see who is eligible for help. The criteria vary by region, but in Amhara, anyone with a motor 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 dependents under age or the elderly, with a disability, being HIV-positive or being a female-headed household.

The shortlist is then made public, and residents have two days to make appeals before the list is finalised. Recipients can receive food – distributed by an aid group working with WFP – or $25 in cash per month.

In the town of Dabat, Silinet Arega, a 30-year-old mother of four, said her family often had no food throughout the day. She can earn a dollar a day cleaning houses one or two days a week, but the work is irregular and the rent is more than six dollars a month, she said. She was delighted to see her name on a list of aid recipients – and said in particular that the new system was much clearer.

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

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