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Refugees and returnees in Rwanda face hunger as WFP runs out of funds

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Refugees and returnees in Rwanda face hunger as WFP runs out of funds

27 May 2005

KIGALI - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are increasingly concerned about the deteriorating conditions of tens of thousands of refugees and returnees in Rwanda as WFP runs out of funds to provide them with food aid.

WFP urgently requires US$5.5 million to provide 9,000 tons of food assistance to some 60,000 people until the end of this year.

Food stocks to feed 54,000 refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, and thousands of Rwandan refugees who are now returning home are quickly running out. By June WFP will have exhausted all its cereals. Following late donations, a new consignment - enough to cover cereal needs for two months - is expected to arrive at the end of July, but it will be finished by September.

"The impact of this is terrible," said Maarit Hirvonen, WFP Country Director in Rwanda. "The refugees are confined to camps and depend entirely on our food for their survival. They have no access to land and opportunities for work and trade are very few."

"We are doing everything we can to channel all available resources into this life-saving operation - we are even taking loans from partner agencies but the sources for any extra food are getting scarce. Without WFP food aid, life in the camps would be totally unsustainable."

Lack of resources in March forced WFP to reduce by 30 percent the amount of food provided to refugees, with serious nutritional consequences. Instead of the 2,027 kcal per person per day - the minimum recommended for a healthy life - refugees in five camps and three transit centres are now receiving only 1,491 kcal. And this comes just when a growing number of refugees from DRC continue to pour into Rwanda. While WFP had planned for 35,000 people, a total of 53,000 refugees have now been registered.

The reduction in food aid has a serious impact in the health and nutritional status of refugees living in crowded camps in the hilltops, with limited facilities and facing harsh, cold weather. There are indications of increasing malnutrition as supplementary feeding centres report a rising number of cases.

"We have noticed that fewer and fewer children are going to school because they are too weak to sit in classes," said UNHCR Representative in Rwanda, Panos Moumtzis. "Domestic violence and crime within the camps and towards the host communities are also on the rise, as well as prostitution, with implications of HIV/AIDS infection for the community."

The reduction in supplies of food aid has also been extended to Rwandan refugees returning home, undermining the repatriation of people impoverished after more than ten years in exile. As of this month, WFP cut the assistance provided to returnees to a one-month food package instead of the planned one for three months.

"This reduction can compromise a very delicate process to stabilize the country as well as creating insecurity within and around refugee camps," said Hirvonen.

The current repatriation operation for some 50,000 Rwandan refugees residing in 14 African countries can be jeopardized by this crisis. During the last three years about 25,000 Rwandans have returned home each year. A monthly average of 1,000 to 2,000 Rwandan refugees came home during the first months of 2005. Without adequate support to help them settle, many Rwandans might prefer to stay in camps outside Rwanda and wait until the situation improves before returning.

A total of US$ 7.9 million has been donated to WFP Rwanda operations in 2005. The donors include USA (US$ 3.5 million), Japan (US$ 1.7 million), Canada (US$ 254,000), Germany (US$ 989,000), Belgium (US$ 660,000), Norway (US$ 408,000), Sweden (US$ 304,000) and Finland (US$ 81,700).