The World Food Programme has started distributing food aid in Ethiopia’s war-scarred Tigray region, in a test for new monitoring measures after halting assistance over the diversion of supplies, the United Nations agency said.
WFP and US aid agency USAID halted food aid to Africa’s second most populous country in June after discovering that supplies were not reaching those in need, raising fears that the decision would leave millions of Ethiopians in desperate straits.
On Tuesday, the UN food agency said it had “started distributing 15-kilogramme (33-pound) pre-packed bags of wheat to just over 100,000 people” as part of a pilot project with improved monitoring mechanisms.
“On July 31, the World Food Programme started testing and verifying enhanced controls and measures for delivering food assistance in four districts of Tigray,” it said in a message to AFP.
The new measures in the “test distributions” include the tracking of supplies and the digital registration of recipients to prevent aid from falling into the wrong hands.
Millions of Ethiopians are facing severe food shortages following a brutal two-year war in Tigray as well as a punishing drought in the Somali region that has also struck Somalia and parts of Kenya.
The Amhara region, which neighbours Tigray, has also witnessed clashes between a local militia and the national army in recent weeks, affecting humanitarian operations there, according to the World Health Organization.
“WFP also plans to begin registering populations and rolling out the new enhanced control measures for targeted, vulnerable people in Amhara, Afar and Somali regions, as well as other parts of Tigray region, as soon as possible,” the agency said.
‘Begging, child labour’
A spokesperson for USAID, the US government’s main international aid agency, told AFP that “at this time, US food assistance in Ethiopia remains paused”.
“We are committed to resuming food assistance as quickly as possible once we can be confident our assistance is reaching the most vulnerable that it is intended for.”
Prior to the nationwide suspension, WFP and USAID said in May that they would freeze food aid to Tigray after discovering that shipments were being diverted to local markets.
Neither agency has identified those responsible for taking the aid and reselling it.
Tigray suffered from dire shortages of food, fuel, cash and medicines during the two-year conflict between forces loyal to the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
On Friday, the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said: “In Tigray, the pause in food aid is leading to increased number of people resorting to negative coping mechanisms, including skipping meals… begging, child labour, transactional sex.”
The war ended with a peace deal signed last November, and some basic services have resumed to the region of six million people.
But media access remains restricted and it is impossible to independently verify the situation on the ground.