ANGOLANS RETURN HOME TO PEACE - AND HUNGER
JOHANNESBURG - After years of exile, tens of thousands of Angolan refugees in Namibia, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are set to endure further hardships once they return home, due to an acute funding shortage faced by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
WFP estimates that it will need a minimum of US$136 million to feed nearly 1.4 million Angolans who have already returned to their homes or are scheduled to be repatriated from Zambia and Namibia this year. There are an estimated 166,000 Angolans in neighbouring countries, some of whom have been living in refugee camps for decades.
Due to seasonal rains, repatriations to Angola can only take place between June and November, thus it is even more crucial that the international community come forth now with funding to take advantage of this limited window of opportunity.
Under a joint programme with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), WFP is planning to assist up to 10,000 Angolans in Namibia and up to 40,000 in Zambia to return home this year. An additional 19,000 Angolans will also be repatriated from the DRC.
The operation is scheduled to start in Namibia in mid-May, and by mid-June in Zambia and the DRC. However, a sluggish response to appeals to support WFP's refugee programmes in Angola, Zambia, Namibia and the DRC means the agency will not be able to supply the returnees with a complete food package. Nor will it be able to sustain current levels of assistance both in the camps and for those who have already returned to Angola.
"The food component of the repatriation exercise is essential to ensure people prosper when they return," said James T. Morris, Executive Director of WFP. "If they have nothing to eat and face barren fields plus rebuilding their homes, then they're more likely to give up and migrate to cities or return to exile."
Many of those being repatriated will return home to rural towns and villages that have been virtually deserted since they left. It will be an arduous task for them to eke out an existence, as large tracts of land have been mined and infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity are in desperate need of repair or non-existent. The few schools and hospitals that have been left standing lack basic essential supplies.
The food these Angolans receive from WFP will therefore give people their best chance for survival while they begin to rebuild their lives. Yet WFP has already been forced to reduce rations by half to nearly 1.4 million Angolans who are in the process of resettling. Their ration is scheduled to be further reduced by June unless cash pledges are immediately forthcoming.
"It's tragic that these people will have to suffer even longer simply because WFP can't give them crucial food supplies to help them start rebuilding their lives," said Ruud Lubbers, High Commissioner of the refugee agency. "The food WFP provides ensures refugees get the best possible start on their difficult road to re-establishing themselves in their communities."
WFP has received only US$35 million of an appeal for US$253 million for its operation in Angola aimed at resettling internally displaced and refugees once they re-cross the border.
The United States has donated funds to buy food packs for Angolans returning from Zambia, which they will consume during their trip home. However, WFP still requires nearly $9 million to assist some 117,000 refugees in Zambia from Angola and the DRC through to the end of the year.
The situation for Angolan refugees in Namibia is also bleak. WFP needs more than $900,000 to supply food to 14,000 refugees while they wait for repatriation and to assist them on their journey back to Angola. WFP also has few food resources to support the estimated 35,000 Angolan refugees in the DRC.
"The bottom line is that without food and resources, we simply can't do our job which is to ensure people living in some of the worst imaginable conditions are given a helping hand," said Morris, who is also the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Southern Africa.
"There is a massive need in southern Africa for international assistance and we all share a humanitarian obligation to make sure that hand of help is extended," Morris said.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
For just US$19 cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.