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Bags of wheat delivered by USAID in December 2021

Photo: J. Countess / Getty Images

For the time being, Ethiopia will no longer receive food aid from the United States. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), deliveries to the country will be stopped because it turned out that some of the donations were diverted and did not benefit people in need.

"Following a nationwide investigation, USAID, in coordination with the Ethiopian government, has determined that a large-scale and coordinated campaign is diverting food aid," the U.S. agency said. Therefore, the "difficult but necessary decision" was made that deliveries could not continue until appropriate reforms had come into force.

As the Washington Post reports, Ethiopian civil servants are said to have been involved in the diversion of aid at both federal and regional levels. The deliveries are said to have been delivered to the military and former fighters. Some of the goods are said to have been processed in Ethiopia and then re-exported.

It was not initially clear what quantities were involved. However, inspections of 63 flour mills in seven of the nine regions of the country found "significant diversions," the report said.

Representatives of the Ethiopian government did not want to comment on the events, according to the newspaper. According to the report, the diversion of food is said to have led to those who are most in need of outside help being left empty-handed.

The suspension of the program comes at a critical time. According to data from Welthungerhilfe, around 22 million people in Ethiopia – about one-sixth of the population – suffer from hunger. The people in the country have suffered a severe drought, civil war and rising food prices in recent years. The fighting in neighbouring Sudan, which has been going on for weeks, has recently further exacerbated the already unstable situation in the region.

According to the Washington Post, the suspension of the USAID program could drive Ethiopia into the arms of Russia. Relations between Addis Ababa and Washington had deteriorated significantly in the wake of the Ethiopian government's armed conflict with the Tigray population in the north of the country. Ethiopia is the largest recipient of USAID aid in the world, according to the report.