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

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 in an appeal to donors.

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

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."