US to resume food aid across Ethiopia next month

FILE PHOTO: Woman carries an infant as she queues in line for food, at the Tsehaye primary school, in Shire

By Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Washington will resume food aid for people across Ethiopia next month, after assistance was paused earlier this year, following implementation of comprehensive reforms, according to a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) statement seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

Ethiopia's food crisis has deepened in recent years as a result of war in the Tigray region and the Horn of Africa's worst drought in decades.

"USAID is committing to a one-year trial period of the nationwide resumption, during which we will continuously monitor and evaluate the efficacy of the reforms put in place by USAID, implementing partners, and the government of Ethiopia," the statement said.

USAID in June said it was suspending food aid to Ethiopia because its donations were being stolen, and last month resumed food assistance to refugees in the country.

The decision impacted dozens of refugee sites, but none were in Tigray, an official said, where a two-year war between the federal government and forces led by the region's dominant political party ended in a truce in last November. The conflict led to tens of thousands deaths and created famine-like conditions for hundreds of thousands.

USAID in the statement on Tuesday said Washington was resuming food aid across the country after significant diplomatic engagement over the last several months resulted in "widespread and substantial reforms of the food assistance structure by the government of Ethiopia and our humanitarian partners."

The agency said the reforms will "fundamentally shift" Ethiopia's food aid system, including by strengthening program monitoring and oversight and reinforcing commodity tracking, among other measures.

The government of Ethiopia agreed to operational changes in their work with humanitarian partners that will improve the partners' ability to identify beneficiaries, USAID said, and also committed to providing unimpeded access for the agency and third-party monitors to review sites throughout the country.

"USAID places the highest priority on taking every possible measure to make sure that U.S. humanitarian assistance is used for its intended purpose, reaches the most vulnerable, and ultimately saves lives," the statement said.

"Given the significant number of people in need of food assistance in Ethiopia, we are pleased these important reforms will allow the delivery of food assistance to those who need it most."

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Jasper Ward; editing by Dan Whitcomb and Bill Berkrot)