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Refugees facing food shortages - World Food Programme needs funding

Briefing notes

Refugees facing food shortages - World Food Programme needs funding

21 December 2004

More than a million refugees face the prospect of hunger and malnutrition in the New Year because of food shortages, with several hundred thousand around the world already struggling to survive on drastically reduced food rations. In this holiday season, we want to draw attention to their plight, which will only worsen unless the World Food Programme [WFP] - UNHCR's partner agency - urgently receives the funding it is seeking.

We are especially worried for refugees in Africa. In Zambia, distribution of pulses and cereals, two essential food products, has been halved in the past two months. Overall food rations will soon have to be cut by half, putting 87,000 of Zambia's 191,000 refugees at risk of malnutrition. Already, we are hearing reports of refugee women resorting to prostitution to support themselves and their children. Field offices in Zambia also report there has been a marked increase in children dropping out of school, presumably to help their families find food. In addition, many refugees are seeking authorization to leave the camps on a daily basis to seek work or food in surrounding areas.

In Tanzania, daily rations of pulses and of maize, the most important staple in the refugees' diet, were reduced by 25 per cent in 13 camps in October. A joint UNHCR-WFP mission in November found that the rate of malnutrition among some 400,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees in Tanzanian camps is on the rise. Malnutrition also threatens some 118,000 refugees in Ethiopia, and another 224,000 in Kenya. Both countries face imminent cuts unless there are immediate donations of cash or food commodities. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, WFP says it will need to make 30 per cent cuts in food rations from January, with adverse consequences for thousands of internally displaced people and refugees.

Africa is not the only continent facing a breakdown in the food pipeline. Internally displaced people in Azerbaijan face a complete cut in food aid in the New Year. Rations for 140,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were halved last month, but food stocks are so low that more drastic measures will be needed soon.

Most of the recent cuts affect refugees who have been outside their country of origin for many years and are especially reliant on assistance for their survival. We urgently appeal to donor countries worldwide to come to their help by generously supporting WFP's appeals.