USAID and the World Food Programme (WFP) have suspended food deliveries to Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, following the discovery that relief aid had been stolen. The WFP has launched an internal investigation into the theft of food supplies, while USAID has referred the matter to its internal, independent inspector general. The suspension will continue until there is confidence that the aid will reach the intended population, who are facing famine.
The interim leader of Tigray, Getachew Reda, has responded by setting up a task force to tackle aid theft and has called on humanitarian agencies to continue delivering aid to the most vulnerable. (Millions of people in Tigray suffer from food shortages after a two-year war between Ethiopian government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.)
The relationship between the U.S. and Ethiopian governments grew tense during the country’s devastating two-year conflict, which was concentrated in Tigray and ended in a ceasefire on November 2, 2022. So much so that when Samantha Power, the USAID Administrator, visited Ethiopia in 2021 to push for greater humanitarian access in conflict-affected regions, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declined to meet with her.
On her end, Power has stated that the U.S. government has raised concerns about the theft with the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray Interim Regional Administration, both of which expressed willingness to work with USAID to identify those responsible and hold them accountable.
USAID’s announcement comes after the Associated Press reported this week that the WFP has suspended its food aid programs in Tigray as it conducts an internal investigation into the theft of food supplies. The majority of WFP’s response in Tigray is funded by USAID.
However, despite the halt in relief supply, Power noted that other forms of humanitarian aid will continue, “including life-saving nutritional supplements, safe drinking water, and support for agricultural activities and development.”
The theft of food aid for famine-stricken populations is a significant concern, and until aid can be delivered safely to those who need it, the situation in Tigray remains dire.