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Our response to claims about diverted aid in Ethiopia

Women at the Bulki Service Cooperative get their flour weighed at the cooperative grinding mill in 1987

Leading aid agencies refute claims that large amounts of aid to Ethiopia in 1984-5 were misused

Aid money sent to Ethiopia in the mid eighties saved hundred of thousands of lives. The British public should feel justifiably proud of the very generous contribution they made to this.

Assertions made by a TPLF former commander in a recent BBC investigation that the majority of aid money to Tigray in 1985 was used for arms or political purposes are incorrect.

When Ethiopia was struck by one of the worst famines in history amid heavy conflict twenty-five years ago, agencies including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, CAFOD and others sought to save the lives of distressed and starving people under difficult circumstances.

We are confident that aid got to millions of people who needed it. It would be wrong to claim that no money was ever diverted in such a situation of active conflict.

However, the uncorroborated allegation, made by a former rebel leader in the BBC report, that 95 percent of $100 million aid for famine victims in Tigray in 1985 was misused is grossly inflated. There is no credible evidence that this figure – or any figure remotely close to it – is accurate.

We welcome public scrutiny of aid distribution and media investigations including those by the BBC.  The public can and should always demand that aid reaches the people who need it, that responses are faster and more coordinated and ultimately that the international community put maximum effort into preventing such emergencies from happening in the first place. 

In 1984-5 and today, we are fully dedicated to uphold these standards in our mission to end poverty worldwide.

Christian Aid is disappointed that a story from more than 25 years ago, solely based on the testimony of former rebel leader Gebremedhin Araya has been published by the BBC.

Christian Aid has robust systems in place to monitor all emergency relief donations and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the most vulnerable, regardless of any political, ethnic or religious affiliations they may have.

The entire grain purchasing mission by Max Peberdy to which the BBC refers was worth $500,000 and the transaction in question just $60,000, which was paid in Ethiopian birr. This money was used to buy food, which was checked. Araya claims that half the sacks of grain were actually filled with sand. It is clearly preposterous to claim that Christian Aid was sold 150 tonnes of sand and nobody noticed.

Max Peberdy went to considerable efforts to ensure that the transaction was legitimate, examining the grain before it was purchased, inspecting the sacks as they were loaded onto lorries and being present when the food was distributed. Then as now, Christian Aid was mindful of how aid can go missing, and took every precaution to prevent that happening.

Max Peberdy who is quoted in the BBC article categorically denies being tricked:

'We routinely monitored the trucks shipping aid across the border. The claim made by Araya is frankly absurd. I was personally present at dozens of grain purchases and never once saw any sand in any grain bags.

'The implication that international aid agencies were aware that they had to ‘grease the wheels’ of power in order to get aid through to those in need is utter nonsense and there was absolutely no question of that happening at any of the grain purchases that I attended.

'Christian Aid’s experienced emergency team on the ground imposed stringent assessment criteria and the use of all donated money was carefully monitored through progress reports and rigorous accounting.

'These claims are outrageous and very damaging and there is far more evidence that the money was channelled to where it should have been than there is for these inaccurate allegations.'

Penny Jenden, director of Band Aid at the time, agrees, 'If this money had been diverted to rebels and not used to buy food you would have had thousands of people lying dead at the side of the road. The fact that there was no major death toll or mass migration clearly demonstrates that the money was not diverted.'

Christian Aid adheres to strict principles in terms of accounting for the money we spend and was named as the top non-governmental performer in the second Global Accountability Report produced by the One World Trust.

For more information about how we ensure we are accountable to our supporters and those we work with around the world read our accountability document.

For an example of how our evaluation process works read the external evaluation of Christian Aid’s Asian Tsunami response.

Photo caption: Women at the Bulki Service Cooperative get their flour weighed at the cooperative grinding mill in 1987.


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Herald Scotland 

Kathy Galloway, head of Scotland at Christian Aid, counters the allegations:

Herald Scotland Letters 22 March 2010


Eyewitness account of the time and events

The Independent

A response to the BBC report