The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Executive Director of WFP have appealed to donors to give generously to alleviate the funding shortages that are forcing the agencies to cut back survival rations for refugees in camps across Africa.
WFP and UNHCR work together to provide two million refugees in the developing world with essential food rations. WFP urgently requires US$219 million for its refugee-related operations until the end of 2005. UNHCR, charged with providing protection, assistance and complementary food and non food items, is also facing an overall shortfall in 2005 – projected at the end of June to be US$181.5 million.
"Refugees in camps and remote settlements are extremely vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition, they rely upon the generosity of their hosts and the international community for the most basic food and other items," said James Morris, WFP's Executive Director.
"When food becomes scarce, refugees often turn to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families. We are particularly worried about the health of the refugee population, domestic violence and refugees resorting to illegal employment or even to prostitution, just to put enough food on the table," said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
In recent months, WFP has been obliged to reduce food rations for hundreds of thousands of refugees in Africa, especially in West Africa and the Great Lakes region. In practice, the cuts have translated into great hardship and suffering among the refugees, especially since supplementary feeding programmes for young children and pregnant or lactating women have also had to be reduced.
For the past eleven months, WFP has been able to provide only two-thirds of the 2,100 kilocalories needed daily to Tanzania's 400,000 camp refugees. Although the situation has now slightly improved, additional contributions are urgently needed to prevent further cuts in rations.
Strain on resources
In the south of Chad, lack of funds has meant incomplete food rations for refugees from the Central African Republic, and even those are irregular. The shortage of food for refugees is putting even greater strain on the resources of host populations. With the continuous arrival of refugees to the south of Chad, new contributions are urgently needed.
Given the slower-than-expected pace of return to Liberia and the limited prospect of a significant reduction in camp populations in the short term, reduced rations have been distributed since May 2005 to some 44,000 Liberian refugees in the eight camps in Sierra Leone. Only some 1,500 vulnerable individuals receive a full ration.
Hopes were high for large-scale returns from Kenya to Sudan following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January. Instead, there has been a steady stream of new refugees arriving in Kenya, putting serious strain on the resources available. WFP has advanced funds from its Immediate Response Account to prevent rations being cut, but additional contributions will be required to sustain the refugees until they can return.
Shortfall in donations
The shortfall in donations also threatens some repatriation operations. It contributes, for example, to the slow pace of return of some 50,000 Rwandan refugees residing in 14 African countries. At the moment, WFP can only afford to give refugees one month's supply of food to tide them over when they go home.
After more than 10 years in exile, many Rwandans face the prospect of returning home to nothing; often there is no field to cultivate and no job to be had. Without even the prospect of some food to keep them alive while they settle in, few are willing to go back.
Zero purchasing power
With these and many other refugee operations critically underfunded, the heads of WFP and UNHCR expressed concern about proposals for the World Trade Organisation to restrict donations of food in-kind.
"Refugees have close to zero purchasing power or impact on international agricultural trade," said Guterres. "In a climate where we already face serious difficulties providing them with the most basic survival rations, it's hard to fathom why we would want to limit the options even further."