Somali refugees escaping the conflict between the Union of Islamic Courts and the Transitional Federal Government have pushed the number of refugees in Kenya to the highest level in a decade, threatening to exhaust food aid stocks unless urgent donations are made, WFP said today.
There are now 240,000 registered refugees in Kenya, with thousands more new arrivals.
Malnutrition rates in the camps are already well above the emergency level and if we have to cut the rations, we know that they will rise even higher
Marian Read, WFP’s Deputy Country Director in Kenya
Since January, an estimated 24,000 people have entered camps in Dadaab in northeastern Kenya from neighbouring Somalia.
With between 300 and 400 people arriving each day at Daadab, the number of newcomers is expected to reach 50,000 by the end of the year.
"Unless we get new funds for our refugee operation immediately, we will have to cut rations in the camps in November,” said Marian Read, WFP’s Deputy Country Director in Kenya.
“It is a terrible decision to face but we have no choice – we can’t wait until food stocks run out. Even with the cuts, we will still run out of food in February next year. The situation is dire.”
Unless new donations are made now, rations will be cut by 12 percent in November, leaving refugees to survive on 1,900 kilocalories a day instead of the recommended daily minimum of 2,100 kilocalories per day.
In December, deeper cuts will follow, with rations at 79 percent of the normal level, or 1,700 kilocalories a day, for all except the most vulnerable.
Conflict and insecurity
Refugees arriving in Kenya say they are fleeing renewed conflict and insecurity.
The situation in southern and central Somalia is particularly tense between the Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa and the Union of Islamic Courts, which has extended its control to the port city of Kismayo.
If war breaks out, the refugee flows would only escalate. Refugees in Kenya are confined to camps, cutting off access to land or work.
“This means that WFP rations are all these people have to eat. They have no other way of making up the difference,” Read said.
“Malnutrition rates in the camps are already well above the emergency level and if we have to cut the rations, we know that they will rise even higher.”
Nutrition surveys in Daadab camp in northeastern Kenya showed this year that 22 percent of children under five were malnourished.
In Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya, surveys conducted in 2005 found that malnutrition among children under five was 19 percent.
A recent WFP-UNHCR nutrition assessment noted that poor hygiene and care practices, extreme environmental conditions, limited health infrastructure and diseases are some of the main causes of poor nutrition.
In addition, refugees sometimes sell or exchange part of their food rations to obtain essential items such as soap, firewood and other basic goods.
To continue feeding 240,000 refugees, as well as the tens of thousands of new arrivals, WFP needs a total of US$8.1 million over the next six months.
The funds will allow WFP to provide more than 14,500 metric tons of food, including 100 tons of high energy biscuits.
Waves of newcomers
High energy biscuits are urgently needed because they help tide over the newly arrived families before the next fortnightly food distribution.
With newcomers approaching 5,000 every two weeks, it is not feasible to rely on longer-established refugee families to share their food.
Kenya’s refugee camps were set up 15 years ago, and mainly host refugees from Somalia (62 percent) and Sudan (33 percent).
WFP provides general food distributions for all registered refugees in the camps, school meals and food for selective and therapeutic feeding programmes for malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers.
In Kakuma, WFP runs a food for assets programme assisting 25,000 people in the host Kenyan community.