The United States aid agency USAID has said it is pausing food shipments to Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region after it discovered that goods it supplied were being sold on the local market.
USAID administrator Samantha Power made the announcement in a statement on Wednesday, explaining that the aid had been intended “for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions”.
“We have made the difficult decision to pause all USAID-supported food assistance in the Tigray region until further notice,” Power said.
She added that USAID’s Office of the Inspector General had investigated the matter and the pause was determined to be the “best course of action”.
There has been no major return to fighting after a peace deal between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was signed in November.
However, food insecurity has persisted despite the government lifting a blockade on the northern region that was imposed when the fighting began in 2020, in order to allow the free flow of aid.
USAID’s move comes just days after the Associated Press news agency reported that the World Food Programme (WFP) had suspended aid deliveries pending an internal investigation into the theft of food in the region, where 20 million people remain in need of humanitarian support.
In her statement on Wednesday, Power said the US “has raised its concerns with officials from both the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray Interim Regional Administration”.
She said both federal and regional authorities had expressed their willingness to help identify those responsible.
“USAID stands ready to restart paused food assistance only when strong oversight measures are in place and we are confident that assistance will reach the intended vulnerable populations,” Power said.
She added that other “vital assistance not implicated in the diversion scheme will continue, including life-saving nutritional supplements, safe drinking water, and support for agricultural activities and development”.
Also on Wednesday, the first round of peace talks between Ethiopia’s government and the southern-based Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) concluded without any concrete agreements.
Both sides said they were committed to continuing the talks.