The United Nations food relief agency has suspended aid distribution in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region amid an internal investigation into the theft of food meant for the hungry, according to four humanitarian workers.
The World Food Program is responsible for delivering food from the United Nations and other partners to Tigray, the epicenter of a devastating two-year civil war that ended with a ceasefire in November.
More than 5 million of the region’s 6 million people depend on aid.
One of the four humanitarian workers told the AP that WFP notified its humanitarian partners on April 20 that it was temporarily suspending deliveries of food to Tigray amid reports of food mishandling. Three other support workers confirmed this information. All of them insisted on anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to any journalist on the matter.
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Last month, the AP reported that WFP was investigating cases of food misappropriation and diversion in Ethiopia, where a total of 20 million people are in need of humanitarian aid due to drought and conflict.
A letter sent on April 5 by WFP’s Ethiopia director asked humanitarian partners to “share any information or cases of food abuse, misappropriation or diversion that you are aware of or that you may have with your staff, beneficiaries or have been brought to your attention by the local authorities.”
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At the time, two aid workers told the AP that the stolen supplies included enough food to feed 100,000 people. Food was found missing from a warehouse in the Tigray city of Sheraro. It is not clear who is responsible for the theft.
Tigray’s new interim president, Getachew Reda, said last month he discussed “the growing challenge of mobilizing and selling food aid to the needy” with senior WFP officials during a visit to the agency in the regional capital, Mekelle.
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A spokesman for WFP in Ethiopia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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