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WFP: Ethiopia Food Distribution May Resume Soon

FILE - Laborers offload bags of grains as part of relief food that was sent from Ukraine at the World Food Program (WFP) warehouse in Adama town, Ethiopia, on Sept. 8, 2022.

NAIROBI — The U.N. World Food Program hopes to resume some food aid distribution in Ethiopia as soon as next month once it has received greater control over how beneficiaries are selected, a senior WFP official said on Monday.

Assistance in Tigray and to refugee camps could resume by the second half of July after the World Food Program received positive feedback from the relevant authorities, Valerie Guarnieri, WFP Assistant Executive Director for Program and Policy Development, said, adding she hoped that would spur a swift resumption of distributions more widely.

The World Food Program paused food aid to the northern Tigray region in May, and then to all of Ethiopia this month, in response to widespread theft of donations. In both cases, its announcements came just after the United States said it was doing the same.

Guarnieri said the agency wanted to reduce the authority of local and regional government officials to decide who qualified for food aid.

"We would want to have a much more direct involvement ourselves as WFP and our partner non-governmental organisations in the process of selecting beneficiaries," Guarnieri told Reuters.

She said WFP investigators had identified weaknesses in the agency's monitoring systems, particularly in Tigray, where donors surged aid after a November peace deal ended the war.

Guarnieri defended WFP's decision to halt food distribution as necessary to ensure donations are reaching those who need them.

"I think the kind of reforms that are needed probably required a rather drastic step to undertake the changes," she said.

Neither WFP nor the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have said who benefited from the thefts, but an internal briefing by a group of foreign donors said USAID believed some food has gone to Ethiopian military units.

Guarnieri said she had no information about who was behind the diversions and was awaiting the results of investigations.

Ethiopia's government has said it is investigating the allegations but also criticized the aid cuts, saying they would deepen a humanitarian crisis.

Ethiopia's army has denied receiving stolen food.