Western Saharan refugees receive aid from UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador
GENEVA, September 13 (UNHCR) - UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie today donated $100,000 for urgently needed food and other aid for Western Saharan refugees, people who have spent nearly 30 years in windswept desert camps waiting to return home.
Some 155,000 Western Saharan refugees, almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, are living on drastically reduced rations in remote desert camps some 2,000 km south of Algeria's Mediterranean coast.
Jolie was the first donor to respond to a joint appeal launched in late August by the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme (WFP) calling for contributions to help feed and assist this largely forgotten and increasingly desperate refugee population.
Speaking from London, Jolie said, "I was distressed when this desperate situation was brought to my attention. I hope to encourage other people to make themselves aware of this crisis facing the Western Saharan refugees and do what they can to help."
Lack of food aid and insufficient funding threaten severe consequences for the health and wellbeing of the Western Saharan refugees, particularly the most vulnerable groups - children under five, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
"The Western Saharan refugees are really experiencing enormous difficulties," said UNHCR's Radhouane Nouicer, who oversees operations in North Africa and the Middle East. "Thirty-five percent of the children suffer chronic malnutrition and 13 percent of the children are acutely malnourished."
If fresh contributions of food do not arrive by October, the refugees will get only 11 percent of their daily food requirements. Each person will only get 231 kcals daily, compared to their standard UN ration of flour, pulses, beans, vegetable oil and other items totalling 2,100 kcals daily.
WFP requires 8,336 metric tons of food at a cost of $3.7 million, of which 80 percent are cereals, to meet the refugees' food needs up to January 2003.
The UN refugee agency is also experiencing a severe cash crunch in its operations to assist the Western Saharan refugees. So far it has received only $1.5 million out of the $4.6 million needed to care for refugees in the troubled region.
The refugees are Saharawi people who fled Western Sahara from 1975 when Morocco annexed the mineral-rich desert region after Spain abandoned it. A 15-year war ensured between the Moroccan government and rebels of the Polisario Front. The UN managed to negotiate a cease-fire agreement in 1991, but has so far been unable to get the parties to decide the political future of the disputed country.