People receive bags of wheat from WFP in Ethiopia (file photo) People receive bags of wheat from WFP in Ethiopia (file photo)   (AFP or licensors)

Caritas: Food aid suspension in Ethiopia is 'inhumane'

Caritas Internationalis joins calls of various religious leaders in Ethiopia to demand that deliveries of food aid be resumed in the country's Tigray region, where fighting has caused a humanitarian disaster.

By Francesca Merlo

Caritas Internationalis issued a heartfelt appeal on Tuesday to aid agencies asking them to resume the recently-suspended food aid to Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

On their website, Caritas, along with numerous religious leaders and aid agencies, calls for US Agency for International Development (USAID) and World Food Programme (WFP) to “resume life-saving food distribution immediately”.

The statement explains that the food aid was suspended on 30 March 2023 in the Tigray region after “widespread and systemic” diversion of large amounts of food meant for hungry people was discovered. The pause was extended to the entire Ethiopian territory in early June.

Millions deprived of food

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Caritas Internationalis’ Secretary General, Alistair Dutton, notes that “for three months, millions of people in need of vital assistance have been deprived of food, drastically reducing the health and security of those already suffering from severe trauma and deprivation following a two-year war and prolonged drought."

The statement goes on to note that even if other vital assistance, including nutrition programs for women and children, safe drinking water and support for agricultural activities and development, is continuing, “the suspension of food distributions is threatening lives even further, especially for the people who are elderly or in poor health, children and IDPs”.

Hunger causing starvation

“People are starving to death. In recent weeks, hunger has killed hundreds of people in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region as a result of food shortage. This is neither humane nor moral,” continues Mr. Dutton. 

Theft and corruption in food aid must not be tolerated, and the people responsible should be held to account.

A thorough investigation must take place, and robust and transparent accountability mechanisms must be put in place to prevent future diversion. “But innocent people cannot be the ones that suffer in the meantime,” adds the Secretary General.

Appeal of religious leaders

Caritas’ appeal echoes those of several Ethiopian religious leaders.

In a joint letter addressed to the Government of Ethiopia, USAID and the WFP, Cardinal Berhaneyesus, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Ethiopia, and Rev. Kes Yonas, President of the Mekaneyesus Evangelical Church of Ethiopia, say that further delays in the delivery of food support would only lead to further catastrophe for those in need.

Also, Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, stresses how suspending this vital support is resulting in severe suffering of people due to hunger.

Finally, adding his voice to the appeal, the Catholic Bishop of Adigrat, Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin, says the deaths of hundreds of people due to starvation cannot be the price to pay to fix the system.

Finally, Caritas reiterates that it "joins the Ethiopian religious leaders’ plea to USAID and WFP to immediately resume food aid distributions to avoid the predictable devastating consequences for those who have the right to receive aid."

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04 July 2023, 10:16