An eyewitness humanitarian worker has refuted allegations that aid agency funds were misused in Tigray during the 1984-5 Ethiopian famine.
In a BBC World Service Assignment documentary broadcast on 4 March 2010, Gebremedhin Araya, a senior member of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) alleged that he duped aid workers by filling grain sacks destined for starving people with sand.
It is alleged that the money misappropriated was then used to purchase weapons.
But Max Peberdy, a worker with the internationally respected development agency Christian Aid, says he was on the spot at the time, and categorically denies being tricked.
He declared: “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," said Peberdy.
He continued: “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,” said Mr Peberdy.
Penny Jenden, director of Band Aid at the time, backs up Peberdy’s statement.
“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," she said yesterday.
"The fact that there was no major death toll or mass migration clearly demonstrates that the money was not diverted.”