The United Nations World Food Programme warned today that its operations caring for 2.2 million refugees globally are increasingly under-funded, bringing hardship and suffering to hundreds of thousands of people.
WFP has already been forced to reduce food rations for refugees in Africa. Without new contributions, the organisation will have to resort to more cuts. The repatriation of refugees in some parts of the world is also critically undermined by the lack of financial support.
WFP now urgently needs US$315 million to meet the needs of 2.2 million refugees living in camps. Seventy-five percent of this sum is required for Africa alone.
“Refugees are among WFP’s most vulnerable beneficiaries and have been hit hard by shortfalls,” said WFP Deputy Executive Director John Powell, who is in Geneva to discuss funding with officials at the headquarters of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. WFP assists refugees and returnees in collaboration with UNHCR through 25 operations worldwide.
“Many of the refugees rely almost entirely on food aid for their survival,” said Powell. “They are frequently confined to camps where arable land, if available, is scarce and employment opportunities are limited.”
This month, WFP began reducing rations to refugees in Sierra Leone after sensitization campaigns in the camps to ensure that the cuts are implemented smoothly. Food rations have also been cut for refugees in Guinea and Liberia, as only 40 percent of WFP’s appeal for US$93.5 million for refugees in west Africa has been funded so far.
To meet the basic needs of refugees in Sierra Leone and Guinea, WFP has had no other choice than to cut food-for-work and food-for-training activities for the local populations. Even school feeding programmes for local and refugee populations have had to be cut.
Within a few weeks, WFP will be running out of food for the 60,000 Sudanese refugees and 3,000 newly arrived Congolese refugees in Uganda following clashes between factions in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A total of 1.4 million people will be affected, including internally displaced, refugees and other vulnerable people.
“The reduction of food rations for refugees has a number of negative effects: health deterioration, inadequate nutrition, increases in domestic violence and crime – as well as refugees taking up illegal employment outside the camps to supplement their diets,” said Powell.
In Tanzania, a nutritional survey done at the end of last year found that 37 percent of the children under five years of age were chronically malnourished and 23.4 percent were underweight among the 400,000 refugees in the country, after WFP was forced to reduce rations from the standard 2,100 kcal per person to 1,629 in September 2004.
At the onset of the rainy season, WFP still needs to pre-position food for the 200,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad and the 60,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan. Many camps won’t be reachable by road from July to October because of the rains.
Repatriation projects are also threatened. More than 30,000 Angolan refugees in Zambia have indicated their intention to return home, but some might choose to stay in the camps for fear of not getting the help and support they need in their country of origin to start a new life. WFP’s appeal for US$83.5 million for the return and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced people in Angola has a shortfall of 41 percent.
Outside Africa, WFP refugee operations are also dramatically short of funds. In Bangladesh, WFP is the only agency providing food to 22,000 refugees from Myanmar and will have to cut rations this summer if there are no contributions soon. Nearly 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, who have already exhausted their coping mechanisms, will also have to endure food cuts if donors do not come to their rescue rapidly.
In Ecuador, WFP has so far received no contribution at all to its appeal of US$1 million for 6,300 Colombian refugees who fled across the border to escape fighting between rival rebel factions.