Mission to assess food situation in Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria

Briefing Notes, 23 January 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 January 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today, nutrition and food management specialists from UNHCR and WFP will start a 12-day mission to the Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria to assess the dire food situation and the nutritional status of the refugee camps in view of a recent disruption in the food pipeline. The specialists will be accompanied by NGO partners and representatives of donor countries. and spend twelve days in the five refugee camps, where they will meet with the beneficiaries, refugee leaders and the Algerian authorities and undertake an in-depth nutritional survey, assess the warehousing and distribution mechanisms.

Food assessment missions are undertaken every two years. In the last one , in 2005, UNHCR and WFP concluded that there was malnutrition in the camps. As a result, remedial measures were taken by the various agencies and NGOs. The amount of fresh food, such as fruit and vegetables, wheat soya supplementary food and high-energy biscuits, was increased. In the camps, the creation of vegetable gardens has been promoted. Water distribution was improved by establishing water pipes, as opposed to the original trucking of water.

While UNHCR and WFP have been focusing on the 90,000 most vulnerable beneficiaries, the camp populations have received additional aid from bilateral donors and NGOs. But the aid for the Sahrawi refugees has not been enough and UNHCR and WFP and partners have on several occasions called for additional funding for this forgotten caseload. In February 2006, following devastating floods in the region, UNHCR, the Algerian government and the international community responded quickly with a $1 million emergency programme. But repeated calls for additional funding, as late as October last year, have yielded little, leading at the end of 2006 to a temporary break in the food pipeline and a deterioration in the nutrition situation in the camps. In the meantime, the food pipeline has been partially restored.

Sahrawi refugees started arriving in Algeria in the mid-seventies. UNHCR and WFP have been providing assistance to this group since the commencement of the influx of Sahrawi refugees into the Tindouf area in 1975-76.