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Severe food shortage for refugees in Ethiopia, UNHCR warns donors


Severe food shortage for refugees in Ethiopia, UNHCR warns donors

The UN refugee agency has joined the World Food Programme in appealing for urgent donations to avert malnutrition and starvation among some 126,000 refugees in Ethiopia.
24 February 2004
Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia's Bonga camp receiving food in better times.

GENEVA, Feb 24 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has made an urgent appeal for donors to act immediately to avert malnourishment and starvation among some 126,000 refugees in Ethiopia.

Affected by a shortfall in contributions, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced that it will cut food rations in Ethiopia's camps starting next month, and possibly run out of food altogether in May.

The impending ration cuts will mean that instead of the minimum requirement of 2,100 kilocalories, refugees will receive only 1,500 kcals per person per day - a reduction that will have an immediate and negative impact on the health and nutrition especially of refugee children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

"We expect that the lower caloric intake due to the 30-percent reduction will result in a quick deterioration of the nutritional status of children and a general deterioration in the overall health status of the refugees, making them more vulnerable to epidemics," said UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler on Tuesday. "Should illnesses occur, there will also be a much higher mortality rate in comparison to periods when the refugees receive the standard 2,100 kcal ration."

He added that UNHCR was also concerned that the ration cuts could reignite tension in the Sudanese camps in western Ethiopia's Gambella region, where deadly clashes involving the local population have broken out in the last year.

Food aid is crucial for the mainly Sudanese and Somali refugees in Ethiopia who are unable to provide for themselves as they are confined to camps in semi-arid areas.

WFP estimates that it needs $10 million to provide 21,000 metric tons of food to these refugees for the year. It had alerted donors to the impending food shortage in a meeting in Addis Ababa last month, but received no contributions apart from a recent donation from the Japanese government that enabled the agency to buy 1,000 metric tons of cereals on the local market.

The current food shortage in Ethiopia reflects a bigger problem. Addressing WFP's Executive Board in Rome on Monday, UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers noted that the two agencies face many of the same challenges: "The most critical of these is that of ensuring the regular and uninterrupted supply of food to our beneficiaries."

He added, "In spite of our inter-agency appeals and the joint briefings by WFP and UNHCR to alert donors to impending breaks in food pipelines, some operations - particularly in Africa - remained poorly funded. The success of our operations ultimately depends on the resources that are made available by our donors. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to make a general appeal to donors for more resources to ensure that we, WFP and UNHCR, are able to effectively discharge our respective mandates."