The United Nations has joined the U.S. in suspending the delivery of aid in Ethiopia, plunging the humanitarian situation in the country into even deeper uncertainty.
The U.S. Agency for International Development stopped distributing food after an investigation showed supplies from international donors was being diverted or sold. The U.N.’s World Food Programme said in a statement on Friday it “will temporarily halt food aid assistance in Ethiopia” while it rolls out safeguards and controls to ensure its food “reaches targeted, vulnerable people.”
The decision could impact more than 20 million people already affected by violence and climate change in the Horn of Africa nation that’s emerging from a two-year civil war.
“After a country-wide review, USAID determined, in coordination with the government of Ethiopia, that a widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance,” a USAID spokesperson said in an emailed statement on Thursday. “As a result, we made the difficult but necessary decision that we cannot move forward with distribution of food assistance until reforms are in place.”
A probe over the past two months found that donor-funded food had been re-purposed and sold at private markets and in some cases exported abroad, documents seen by Bloomberg show.
The scheme was allegedly orchestrated by federal and regional government entities in Ethiopia, as well as private grain and flour traders. It also benefited military units nationwide, according to the documents.
Spokespeople from the Ethiopian government and the National Disaster Risk Management Commission of Ethiopia didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
But in a joint statement with USAID, Addis Ababa said it would address “deeply concerning revelations of food aid diversion in Ethiopia.”
The U.S. and Ethiopia “are conducting investigations so that the perpetrators of such diversion are held to account,” according to the statement.
Last month, the WFP paused food distributions in the northern Tigray region, the epicenter of the war, after finding evidence of significant aid sales in local markets.
Police in Ethiopia last year arrested Mitiku Kassa, the former head of the national disaster commission, for alleged corruption.
The allegations could affect debt relief negotiations the government is holding with creditors, including the U.S., under the Group of 20 Common Framework, and come as the nation faces a shortage of foreign exchange.