High Commissioner warns about impact of global food shortages

Briefing Notes, 8 April 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 April 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

High Commissioner António Guterres has expressed concern about the impact of global food shortages on the world's most impoverished people and has urged the international community to support a World Food Programme call for critical funds to address soaring food and fuel prices. Mr. Guterres made the call at the Progressive Governance summit hosted over the weekend by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

He asked those attending the summit to respond positively to a recent appeal by the World Food Programme. WFP issued an extraordinary emergency appeal to government donors on March 20, saying that due to soaring food and fuel prices it was facing a shortfall of some US$500 million in its efforts to feed 70 million people this year. Among those fed by WFP are millions of the world's refugees and internally displaced.

The UK meeting, gathering 12 centre-left world leaders and eight other key figures from the European Union and major international organizations, focused on how governments and global bodies such as UNHCR can help to combine economic progress and world trade with social justice. The threats posed by global climate change, rising energy prices and the related rise in food prices on impoverished communities worldwide were among the concerns of the leaders at the summit.

The High Commissioner's backing for WFP's appeal came just a day after rice prices rose more than 10 percent to a record high after key importers bought up available supplies.

Guterres called on participants, including summit founder and former US President Bill Clinton, World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, to bear in mind the impact of rising energy prices and economic uncertainly on developing countries, making communities emerging from conflict or just passing through precarious economic periods liable to new instability.

He said the biggest threat to progressive governments in the developing world today is the rise of food prices for urban populations and the danger of public opinion triggering social unrest. Clinton supported Guterres' appeal for food aid and said efforts to establish price stability were vital for people in the developing economies.

Their advocacy was included in the summit's final communiqué, which stressed that the food aid needs of less developed countries and humanitarian beneficiaries need to be met.

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Food and Nutrition

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

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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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