Hunger looms for thousands of refugees in Kenya, warns WFP

Published on 17 December 2004

Nairobi WFP warns that thousands of refugees in Kenya will go hungry unless it receives immediate donations of cash or food commodities.


NAIROBI - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that thousands of refugees in Kenya will go hungry unless it receives immediate donations of cash or food commodities.

"Less and less food has been reaching refugee families. Instead of 26 kilograms of food for two weeks, a family of three now has to make do with 23 kilograms. It will get continually worse unless contributions come forward urgently," said Tesema Negash, WFP's Country Director for Kenya.

WFP urgently requires US$9 million for the next six months to avoid further reductions in food aid for the 224,000 refugees living in Kenya. Food rations were already cut by 12 percent in November, when WFP ran out of wheat flour, a staple in the refugees' diet.

Other food supplies will start to run out by mid-March, and by April, WFP will have exhausted all available commodities for the refugees.

"Food shortages pose a serious risk of malnutrition to refugees, and may provoke a wider humanitarian crisis. Our daily food ration of 2,100 kilocalories is the bare minimum. Each time we reduce food rations in the camps, we see the level of malnutrition increase and the refugees become more vulnerable to disease. We do not want to see this happen again," said Negash.

Refugees in Kenya are mainly from Sudan and Somalia. By law they are confined to camps in Kakuma and Dadaab -- in the northern and eastern parts of Kenya -- which are areas of chronic poverty. This prevents them from engaging in paid labour. The harsh and impoverished environment around the camps also means they are highly unlikely to find jobs or any other means of feeding themselves.

Despite recent developments towards peace in both Somalia and Sudan, persistent civil unrest in Somalia and political uncertainty in Sudan continue to prevent refugees from returning home. Recurrent drought and other natural disasters are additional deterrents. While international attention is focused on more recent upheavals and natural disasters, long-standing refugee situations like Kenya suffer from recurrent funding crises.

"Food is the most basic need for these people who have fled their country to escape horror and atrocities. They've witnessed the massacre of loved ones, the destruction of their homes and they've suffered persecution and pain," said Negash. "WFP has the responsibility to provide their food in order to protect their health."

WFP has assisted refugees in Kenya since 1991, when civil strife and military conflicts in neighbouring Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan forced some 420,000 people to seek refuge. WFP's contributions to the current refugee operation in Kenya were from the United States (US$ 19 million), Japan (US$ 3.1 million), France (US$ 1.2 million), Germany (US$ 610,000), Finland (US$ 249,000), Italy (US$ 48,000) and Ireland (US$ 22,000).

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.

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