The Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), James Morris, today called on the international community not to forget the plight of the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, tens of thousands of whom are still entirely dependent on external assistance to survive, some three decades after fleeing a territorial dispute.
“The donor community has provided critical assistance over the years and that support needs to continue,” said Morris, who yesterday visited the refugee camps located in the desert near Tindouf, and met with Mohamed Abdelaziz, President of the Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic, as well as the camps’ Council of Elders.
Morris also expressed his concerns about the situation of the Sahrawi refugees in his meetings today with senior government officials, including Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, Foreign Minister Mohammed Bedjaoui and Ould Abbes, Minister of Employment and National Solidarity.
In addition, he expressed how appreciative WFP is for its strong and growing partnership with Algeria, which has become the largest African donor to WFP and in recent years has contributed to its operations in countries in southern and western Africa.
Recent contributions to assist the Sahrawi refugees have been extremely helpful in filling the gap. However, WFP still needs 6,000 metric tons of food at a cost of over US$5 million in order to reach 90,000 of the most impoverished refugees over the next six months. In addition, WFP is assisting, until the end of the year, 35,000 people affected by the severe torrential rains, which inundated the refugee camps in February 2006 and washed away food, belongings and tents.
“For more than 20 years, these people have had to endure a harsh desert environment, social isolation and a chronic lack of economic opportunities. WFP and its partners are doing their utmost to ensure that the most needy refugees receive the quantity and quality of assistance they desperately need,” said Morris.
“WFP is working closely with its partners in the camps to get a better assessment on the exact number of people in need of our assistance,” he added. “It is extremely important that we get food to those most in need and that we are accountable for the resources provided to us by the donor community,” he stressed.
The difficult living situation, in which many households cannot afford to buy nutritious food, is having an obvious impact on the health of the refugees, stressed Morris. A joint UN study last year concluded that almost two thirds of the women suffer from anaemia and one out every three children under five suffers from chronic malnutrition.
The refugees arrived in Algeria in 1975 after fleeing a territorial dispute with Morocco. In October 2006, the UN Security Council reaffirmed that a just and lasting solution was still under negotiation. However, until a solution is reached, the refugees will continue to rely on the humanitarian community.
“Refugees are the responsibility of the international community not of one single country. The Algerian Government has generously given lodgings and financial support but more international help is needed,” said Morris.
Since 1986, WFP has been assisting the Government of Algeria in meeting the basic nutritional needs of the refugees. To date, WFP assistance to the refugees totals over US$157 million and includes the current operation valued at US$43 million.
WFP has received donations totalling US$28.5 million for its US$43 million operation for the Sahrawi refugees. Donor countries include: the European Commission (US$10.4 million), Spain (US$5 million), Switzerland (US$2.2 million), the United States (US$2 million), Canada (US$1.2 million), Finland (US$622,000), France (US$609,000), Austria (US$428,000), Ireland (US$368,000), Germany (US$237,000), Italy (US$18,000) and US$23,000 from the private sector. A further US$5.4 million in multilateral contributions has been provided.
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