The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have suspended food aid to Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region, citing the diversion of shipments to illicit sales in local markets rather than reaching the people in need.
Separate statements issued late Wednesday from USAID and WFP said the diversion of aid to local markets was undermining their efforts to provide much-needed food assistance to the war-torn region.
The international donors revealed that aid workers had found evidence of aid items being sold on the open market, rather than distributed to those in need.
The suspension of aid is a significant blow to the region, which has already been ravaged by conflict, drought, and famine.
In a statement, USAID chief Samantha Power said, “We have made the difficult decision to pause all USAID-supported food assistance in the Tigray region until further notice.”
“USAID uncovered that food aid intended for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions was being diverted and sold on the local market,” she added.
The WFP also said in its statement that it is deeply concerned by recent reports of a significant diversion of humanitarian food assistance in the region.
It also announced a halt to its programs, stating that “the WFP takes this issue extremely seriously and will not tolerate any interference in its distribution of critical food aid to the most vulnerable women, men, and children.”
However, a geopolitical expert warned of a series of consequences if both international donors suspended assistance.
Midamba Noah, the vice chancellor of KCA University in Kenya, told Anadolu, “I can confidently say that the suspension of food aid to Tigray will have devastating consequences for the already vulnerable population.”
“The agencies are providing vital aid that is needed, and we abuse it at the local level across Africa, as you have just seen in Tigray where we take aid and sell it on the streets,” he said, adding that “this cannot continue.”
He urged African governments to ensure that such aid reaches those in need rather than “thieves.”
Meanwhile, Tigray interim regional administration President Getachew Reda said in a statement on Thursday that he has been engaged by Tigrayans, diplomats, and international humanitarian organizations on the issue of illegal aid in the open market.
“We have launched a high-level investigation to ensure that all culprits are held accountable, regardless of their background or status,” he pledged, urging USAID and WFP to continue their multi-sectorial relief aid to save the lives of the most vulnerable in Tigray.
However, the two international donors have stated that shipments would resume only after oversight measures were put in place to ensure that aid reached those who needed it the most.