UNHCR warns of food crisis in East and Horn of Africa
GENEVA, March 5 (UNHCR) - A crisis is brewing in the East and Horn of Africa as the UN World Food Programme runs short of funds to feed some 600,000 refugees in UNHCR's camps.
Refugees in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan are facing severe cuts in rations, while new food needs have arisen among refugees in Chad, and as far away as the Congo. UNHCR, which works closely with WFP in these camps, has announced that the food agency urgently needs $48.3 million to feed these refugees till the end of the year.
"In many camps in the Horn, refugees are already getting much less in their stomachs due to the cut in aid," said UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler at a news briefing in Geneva Friday. "We are extremely worried about the effects of this shortfall if it is not addressed immediately. Unless WFP gets contributions soon, more than 100,000 refugees will have nothing to eat starting from May. These numbers will more than triple by June unless WFP receives immediate donations."
In Ethiopia, some 126,000 refugees - mainly from Somalia and Sudan - have already seen their food rations cut by 30 percent. They now receive 1,500 kilo calories per person per day, down from the standard 2,100 kcal requirement. UNHCR is concerned that this will affect the health and nutrition of refugees, especially children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, and make them more vulnerable to diseases.
Kessler noted that unless donors act immediately, refugees in Ethiopia's camps will stop receiving food completely from May.
In Kenya's camps, more than 221,000 Somali and Sudanese refugees are expected to lose their cereal rations in April and run out of food completely by June unless donations arrive. Nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan's camps will also have to forfeit cereals by mid-April. This will have grave effects as cereals and wheat flour are main staples in their diet.
"Food aid is required to meet all our refugees' dietary needs because most of the camps in the East and Horn of Africa are in remote semi-arid desert regions, and the refugees have little or no opportunity to farm, raise livestock, or otherwise provide for themselves," explained Kessler. "Many of the households are also headed by women, who simply have their hands full looking after themselves and their families."
In addition to the food crisis, the future of these refugees is hanging in the balance amid peace talks that could bring an end to civil conflicts in Somalia and Sudan. Officials from these countries, as well as Eritrea and a host of other states, will meet UNHCR next week to discuss the possibility of voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration.
Meanwhile, new demands are rising in other parts of the region. In eastern Chad, some 110,000 Sudanese refugees are in need of food aid after losing most of their food and livestock as they fled the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Further afield, UNHCR has also asked WFP to supply food urgently to 6,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo now living in precarious conditions in northern Republic of Congo. Food aid is also needed to help a group of 14,000 returnees in the Republic of Congo settle back into their communities.