The United States said Thursday it would resume limited food assistance in Ethiopia, delivering to some one million refugees, but will keep most operations suspended after concerns of systematic diversion of aid.
The US will immediately restart food assistance at 28 camps inside Ethiopia that are home to refugees, mostly from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, officials said.
But broader aid inside Ethiopia, which is recovering from a brutal two-year war in Tigray, will remain on hold as the United States implements more measures to prevent diversion.
"Our assistance for other food insecure populations across Ethiopia remains paused until we have assurance it will reach its intended beneficiaries," said Jessica Jennings, spokeswoman for the US Agency for International Development (USAid).
"USAid's priority is to resume food assistance for those in need as soon as possible in all regions, and we stand ready to do so as soon as necessary remaining reforms are implemented," she said.
The decision on the assistance to refugees came after the Ethiopian government agreed to transfer responsibility for storing and distributing the food to aid workers at the camps.
USAid halted all food aid to Ethiopia in June, alleging a "widespread and coordinated" campaign to divert donated supplies.
The United States has not publicly named the culprits, but aid groups have blamed both the federal and regional authorities, with soldiers benefitting from resale of donated food.
The World Food Programme also halted aid, but resumed distribution in August in the war-ravaged Tigray region after it implemented monitoring measures.
None of the refugee camps affected by USAid's resumption are in Tigray. USAid said it was looking to resume full assistance in Ethiopia by expanding third-party monitoring and other reforms including spot checks on vendors and biometric verification on recipients.
The Tigray conflict, which by some estimates claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, was halted by a November 2022 peace deal signed in South Africa.
During the conflict, the United States accused Ethiopia of withholding food as a weapon, worsening relations with a government that had been a close ally.
UN agencies warned in June that some 60 million people need food assistance in the Horn of Africa due to armed conflict, record droughts linked to climate change and high global prices caused in part by the Ukraine war.