ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The United States Agency for International Development will restart food aid deliveries across Ethiopia in December, five months after it halted its nationwide program over a massive corruption scheme by local officials.
Last month, USAID resumed food aid to the roughly 1 million refugees in the east African country after the Ethiopian government agreed to remove itself from the dispatch, storage and distribution of refugee food supplies.
The planned resumption comes after the agency reintroduced reforms to improve the registration of beneficiaries and the tracking of donated grain, USAID spokesperson Jessica Jennings said Tuesday.
These new measures will be tested for one year, she said, adding that they "will fundamentally shift Ethiopia's food aid system and help ensure aid reaches those experiencing acute food insecurity."
USAID and the U.N.'s World Food Program suspended food aid to Ethiopia's Tigray region in mid-March after uncovering a colossal scheme by government officials to steal donated grain. The two agencies halted their programs across the country in early June after discovering the theft was nationwide.
USAID officials said it could be the largest-ever theft of food aid. The agency has previously sought to remove Ethiopian government officials from having any role in aid processes to stem corruption.
The suspension affects 20.1 million Ethiopians who rely on food aid because of conflict and drought. The Associated Press has reported that hundreds, possibly thousands, of needy people have starved to death in Tigray since the suspension. A ceasefire a year ago ended a two-year conflict in the northern region of Ethiopia.
The U.S. aid agency did not say if Ethiopian officials are still involved in the delivery of food. "The government of Ethiopia has agreed to operational changes in their work with humanitarian partners that will strengthen our partners' ability to identify and approve beneficiaries based on vulnerability criteria," said Jennings.
The WFP also restarted aid to refugees in Ethiopia in October but is yet to resume food aid nationwide.