Page last updated at 01:29 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 02:29 UK

Ethiopian needy 'not getting aid'

By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Addis Ababa

An Ethiopian worker carries food aid, file image
A new system of aid delivery is being put in place

Emergency food aid is not getting out fast enough to the people who need it in Ethiopia's troubled Somali region, a top US official says.

Michael Hess, of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), says only 41% of the food allocated for July has reached its intended recipients.

The US supplies nearly all of the aid, and Mr Hess says such distribution is not good enough.

Ethnic Somali rebels have been fighting an insurgency in the region for years.

In a drought like this one, Ethiopia depends heavily on food aid - and that means that it depends on the generosity of the US.

As the man in charge of this aid, Mr Hess has been to see for himself how the system is working.

Big changes expected

Ethiopia's Somali region does have particular problems.

An armed rebellion and an army counter-insurgency operation have been going on for more than a year across the centre of the region.

Horn of Africa

Even so Mr Hess, who is a former military man himself, was clearly not very impressed.

"[In] the Somali region, the food is not getting out fast enough," he said.

"We estimate that 41% of the July distribution has reached the population. There is a lot of reasons for that.

"Certainly there was some concerns over access, it is a difficult area as you all know, the Somali region.

"But we were concerned primarily about making sure that it got out to the end user, the beneficiaries. And 41% is not enough."

Much of the problem is logistic.

Deliveries for food aid are hugely extended, with consignments starting at depots outside the Somali region and often having to travel right through conflict affected areas where no food is allowed to move without an army escort.

The World Food Programme, which brings in the food, has been pressing the government to allow it to set up depots within the region and to distribute food from there.

Now finally permission has been given. Mr Hess said he was expecting to see some big changes after 1 October when this so-called hub-and-spoke system comes into operation.

Country profile: Ethiopia
03 Jun 08 |  Country profiles

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