End food cuts for Africa's refugees, urge UNHCR and WFP

News Stories, 14 September 2005

© UNHCR/L.Taylor
Refugees in Tanzania's Mtabila camp have been surviving on two-thirds of their daily food needs for the last 11 months.

GENEVA, September 14 (UNHCR) Cuts in food rations in Africa's refugee camps are threatening the health, nutrition and social stability of hundreds of thousands of refugees, warned the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme today as they appealed for more funds to feed the refugees.

The two UN agencies work together to provide essential food for 2 million refugees in the developing world, but funding shortages have forced them to reduce rations. WFP urgently needs US$219 million for its refugee-related operations until the end of this year. UNHCR tasked with providing protection, assistance and complementary food and non-food relief items is also facing an overall shortfall this year, projected at the end of June to be US$181.5 million.

"Refugees in camps and remote settlements are extremely vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition, they rely upon the generosity of their hosts and the international community for the most basic food and other items," said WFP Executive Director James Morris.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres added, "When food becomes scarce, refugees often turn to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families. We are particularly worried about the health of the refugee population, domestic violence and refugees resorting to illegal employment or even to prostitution, just to put enough food on the table."

In recent months, WFP has had to reduce food rations for hundreds of thousands of refugees in Africa, especially in West Africa and the Great Lakes region. These cuts have brought great hardship and suffering to the refugees, including young children and pregnant or lactating women whose supplementary feeding programmes have been reduced.

In Tanzania, some 400,000 refugees in camps have been receiving just two-thirds of their daily nutritional needs of 2,100 kcal. for the last 11 months. The situation has now improved slightly, but more contributions are urgently needed to prevent further cuts in rations.

In southern Chad, the lack of funds has meant that food rations are incomplete and irregular for refugees from the Central African Republic. The arrival of thousands more since June is straining local resources, and additional funds are required amid the continuing influx.

Rations have also been reduced since May for some 44,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone's eight camps, as the pace of returns to Liberia has been slower than expected. Only some 1,500 vulnerable refugees receive full rations.

In Kenya, UNHCR had been anticipating the large-scale return of refugees to South Sudan following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January. But a steady stream of refugees has been arriving in Kenya instead, putting a serious strain on available resources. WFP has advanced funds from its Immediate Response Account to prevent ration cuts, but more contributions are needed to feed the refugees until they can go home.

Some repatriation operations have also been affected by the shortfall in donations. In Rwanda for example, WFP can only afford to give returnees one month's supply of food when they arrive at home. This is hardly reassuring for many Rwandan refugees who, after more than 10 years in exile, face the prospect of returning home to nothing no job and no field to cultivate. Few are willing to go back, contributing to the slow pace of return of some 50,000 Rwandan refugees in 14 African countries.

In addition to severe under funding, the heads of WFP and UNHCR have also raised concerns about proposals for the World Trade Organisation to restrict donations of food in-kind.

"Refugees have close to zero purchasing power or impact on international agricultural trade," said Guterres. "In a climate where we already face serious difficulties providing them with the most basic survival rations, it's hard to fathom why we would want to limit the options even further."

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Food and Nutrition

UNHCR strives to improve the nutritional status of all the people it serves.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan are working to deliver emergency assistance to some of the tens of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in Jonglei state. Most of those uprooted have fled into the bush or have walked for days to reach villages away from the fighting. Others have journeyed even greater distances to find sanctuary in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Gaining access to those affected in an insecure and isolated area has been a significant challenge for aid workers. Since mid-July, an airlift has been providing food supplies to families living in two previously inaccessible villages and where humanitarian agencies have established temporary bases. As part of the "cluster approach" to humanitarian emergencies, which brings together partners working in the same response sector, UNHCR is leading the protection cluster to ensure the needs of vulnerable individuals among the displaced are addressed.

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

Afghanistan: The Reality of Return

The UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme join forces to improve the lives of Afghan returnees in the east of the country

After more than two decades of war, Afghanistan faces enormous recovery needs. The rugged, landlocked nation remains one of the poorest in the world, with more than half its 25 million citizens living below the poverty line. Furthermore, the rise in global food prices has affected more than 2.5 million Afghans, who can no longer afford to buy staples such as wheat flour.

Since 2002, more than 5 million Afghans have gone back home, with a large proportion returning to the eastern provinces. The returnees face huge challenges, such as insecurity, food shortages, insufficient shelter, unemployment and a lack of access to basic services.

UNHCR and WFP are working in partnership to help returnees in Afghanistan to rebuild their lives, particularly in the east. Programmes such as skills training, micro hydroelectricity projects and food distribution have helped Afghans get back on their feet and work towards creating sustainable livelihoods.

Posted on 18 September 2008

Afghanistan: The Reality of Return

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