The World Food Program (WFP) is currently investigating the theft of food aid in the Tigray region, according to a letter seen by AFP. These stolen foods would have served to to alleviate the situation of some of the 20 million people that the UN estimates are affected by the drought and the conflict that devastated the north of Ethiopia between 2020 and 2022.
The director of WFP in Ethiopia, Claude Jibidar, communicates in the letter that “WFP is very concerned about the large-scale sale of food from some markets” which, he says, “not only represents a reputational risk, but also it also threatens our ability to mobilize more resources for people in need.” The letter, which calls for immediate action to stop the misappropriation of humanitarian food, was signed on April 5 this year and is addressed to WFP partners in Ethiopia.
Although the letter does not specify the case, two workers from the world organization told AP that the stolen aid included enough food to feed 100,000 people, and that, among others, a warehouse in the city of Sheraro had been looted. It is unknown who stole this warehouse, which was looted months ago by the Eritrean military allied with the Ethiopian government and which has been used by different organizations (such as USAID) to store food before distributing it among its partners, who are the ones who finally distribute it to the civilian population.
It is not the first time that problems have arisen regarding humanitarian aid in northern Ethiopia. In the most tense moments of the conflict, the central government expressly prohibited the crossing of all humanitarian aid into the areas occupied by the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), which did not begin to enter the region in small amounts until the signing of peace. The scarcity of arable fields in Tigray and lack of aid led to famine that ended the lives of almost half a million people in two years. A sister of charity who has wanted to remain anonymous confirmed to LA RAZÓN from Tigray that, during the war, “the scarcity of food made it necessary to choose between who ate, whether the children and the women or the combatants. With the combatants having to be fed first so they can fight, it is clear that children were the most affected.”
Other cases of theft of humanitarian aid in Tigray are also known. In August 2022, the theft of more than half a million liters of fuel was reported by the TPLF. Aid missions had to be temporarily stopped at this time, as the WFP then ran out of fuel for its trucks. Despite continuous calls from the UN for said fuel to be returned, alleging that it would not be replenished until October, the TPLF never responded to this request.
Clashes between the army and Amhara forces
The difficult situation in Ethiopia also hinders investigations. A few weeks ago clashes began between the Ethiopian federal army and the Amhara State regional force, after the government made the government decision to incorporate the Ethiopian regional security service into the national army. It should be remembered that the Amhara regional force fought alongside the federal army during the Tigray conflict, while they still de facto occupy several Tigranian towns today.
Gunfights between rival units were ongoing on Tuesday morning in Debre Birhan and Bahir Dar, according to residents and aid workers. Gunfire was also heard in the towns of Sekota and Dessie Monday night. Roads, shops and banks in the two cities remain closed in several areas as a result of the fighting and protests.