KIGALI - The United Nations World Food Programme warned today that it would have to cut rations by 30 percent in early March for 50,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees in Rwanda unless donors stepped forward with US$2.6 million.
WFP has responded quickly to the increasing number of refugees from both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi arriving in Rwanda over the last year because of unrest, violence and banditry.
"WFP has done all it can to help the newly arrived refugees. Today we are providing food assistance to 50,000 refugees, 15,000 more than the number we originally targeted," said Alix Loriston, WFP Acting Country Director in Rwanda. "But without new contributions from the international community, we will no longer be able to provide a complete food ration, putting the health and morale of these refugees in danger."
Refugees in Rwanda have little option than to remain in the six refugee and transit centres where most depend on WFP food. The government does not allow them to seek employment outside and the closed, secluded nature of the camps severely inhibits any farming or money-generating activities.
"Until the political situation improves in the region and the flow of the refugees reverses, they will continue to depend almost entirely on WFP food assistance. The international community has an obligation on humanitarian grounds to ensure they are taken care of until such time that they can return," said Loriston.
In January, WFP had to cut cereals, the main component, out of the monthly food rations provided to 45,000 Rwandans and their families in Food For Work and 4,000 people in Food for Training activities. This is already having deep consequences because the number of malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women attending supplementary and therapeutic feeding centres has increased.
A recent joint assessment mission by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Ministry of Agriculture concluded that Rwanda would be increasingly short of food in the months ahead. It found that poor and erratic rainfall in recent months would severely hit the most important harvest of the year in January.
The hardest-hit regions are the already food-insecure provinces of Kibungo, Umutara, Bugesera and Gikongoro. A WFP, FAO and NGOs mission is currently assessing the vulnerability of the population in the affected areas in order to estimate food and non-food aid needs.
"The number in need is expected to grow, but we cannot make the food go any further. Additional support to both refugees and vulnerable Rwandans is essential if we are to succeed at keeping malnutrition at bay," said Loriston.
WFP feeds a total of 309,000 people in Rwanda with emergency food aid and school feeding and HIV/AIDS assistance. More than 50,000 Congolese and Burundian refugees, 67,000 people enrolled in food-for-work and 11,000 malnourished women and children under five receive WFP food aid.
So far this year, the United States contributed US$1.9 million to WFP's operations in Rwanda and Belgium gave 500,000 Euros. Countries that contributed in 2004 consisted of the United States, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium and Finland.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.
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