More than 44,000 South Sudanese refugees arrived in Uganda in the first two weeks of November, bringing the total to 340,000 since July, and there is no indication that the huge influx will slow down soon. At a cost of US$12 million per month for its refugee operation, WFP is overstretched and in urgent need of resources.
Robert Aligo is one of thousands of people seeking refuge in Uganda after renewed fighting began in South Sudan in July. The 19-year-old former student escaped heavy fighting in the town of Kaya and headed for Uganda, walking for 18 hours through the night to reach safety at the Keri border point. From there he was transported by a UN bus to the Bidi Bidi Refugee settlement, which three months ago did not even exist and is now home to over 220,000 people.
“I heard heavy gunfire in the night and I had no choice but to run,” Robert said as he waits in the verification line at Bidi Bidi. “A friend of mine, a security operative, had told me earlier that 12 people had been murdered. I left my brother and my two step sisters behind, moving with nothing, just these clothes and my life. I am here so that I can be safe. Staying in (South) Sudan means death.”
Robert said he came by himself. “I met these two (two young men standing ahead of him in the line) in Keri and they are now my brothers, although I don’t yet know their names. What I need now is food because I have not eaten a full meal since I left Kaya.”
WFP is provides high-energy biscuits to refugees when they arrive at the border with Uganda, along with cooked meals in the transit and reception centres while they wait to be settled on their new plots of land. Ready-to-use supplementary foods are also provided to treat cases of acute malnutrition at these centres. Once families relocate to the settlements, WFP provides them with monthly rations of staple foods, including cereals, pulses, vegetable oil fortified with vitamin A, iodized salt, and a nutrient rich mix for porridge to prevent micronutrient deficiencies. Cases of acute malnutrition continue to receive supplementary rations of specialized nutritional products at the settlements’ health centres, until they have recovered.
However, WFP is at a precarious point in its refugee response as it is faced with a funding shortfall of US$57 million for the next six months. The scale of the recent influx is unprecedented, with more than 340,000 people arriving from South Sudan since July. Eighty-six percent of the new refugees are women and children, with few or no resources to start their lives anew in Uganda.
Uganda now hosts more refugees than any other country in Africa. At the beginning of the year, WFP was assisting 380,000 refugees in Uganda; by October that number had grown by 70 percent to 650,000 refugees. The food requirements are substantial - US$12 million per month - almost double the monthly requirement prior to the recent influx. However, resources mobilized by WFP have not kept pace with the influx.
Rose, a 28 year old mother of four, is another of the refugees that fled the Kaya fighting. She walked all the way to Uganda with her four children aged between eight and two-and-a half years.
“I fled Kaya in August and moved with my children to a nearby town called Yondu. But when fighting started again in Kaya, there was panic in Yondu and other nearby villages. People were running, saying people had been killed. I picked up my children and just a small bag with their clothes and we and our neighbours began to walk to Uganda,” said Rose.
"A food shortage is the worse thing we can face"
Rose wishes she had a way to go back and bring the food she left behind, cassava, maize and beans, so she could sell some of if to get money. All she came with was the equivalent of less than 50 US Cents.
“When I reached Uganda, my children and I were tired,” Rose says. “We received food from WFP and I felt strong again. The children, as you can see, are now able to play. We are now waiting for the evening (WFP) meal to be served.”
The Government’s co-ordinator of the Bidi Bidi settlement response, Robert Baryamwesiga explained how on some days they received up to 6,000 refugees in one day.
“It does not matter how well we coordinate the response to the influx if we lack the resources,” Baryamwesiga said. “Food is one of the most important needs here and it is not a one-off. You have to provide it every day as the refugees need to be fed. A food shortage is the worst thing we can face. It can cause instability and insecurity and expose children, women and humanitarian workers among them to danger,” he added.
WFP’s refugee operation this year is funded by Canada, the European Commission, Ireland, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and multilateral donors. The top 10 multilateral donors to WFP in Uganda in 2016 (as at 01 November) are: Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and Finland.