Algeria has hosted refugees from Western Sahara since 1975, one of the world’s most protracted refugee crises. The Sahrawi refugees live in five camps near the town of Tindouf in Western Algeria, characterized by extreme heat and very low rainfall. The harsh and isolated desert environment limits livelihood and economic opportunities, leaving the refugees highly dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Despite over 30 years of uninterrupted assistance, 30 percent of Sahrawi refugees are food insecure and 58 percent are at risk of food insecurity. The last nutrition survey showed a deterioration of the nutrition situation of children and women.
Global acute malnutrition affects almost 8 percent of children aged 5 or less. The prevalence of anaemia is alarmingly high with more than half of children aged 5 or less and women of reproductive age affected, possibly indicating a dietary iron deficiency. In addition, poorly diversified diets and a lack of nutritional awareness result in overlapping nutritional problems including mineral and vitamin deficiencies and overweight/obesity in women.
Despite continued negotiations, the political situation remains unsolved, so refugee camps have been the only alternative for Sahrawi refugees. The status quo has fueled frustration and disillusionment, especially among the young.
A COVID-19 outbreak risks overwhelming the camps’ fragile health system and exacerbating the refugee’s already difficult situation. The humanitarian community including UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP prepared a joint COVID-19 response strategy to prevent transmission of COVID-19 among Sahrawi refugees, provide adequate care for patients affected by COVID-19 and support their families, and adapt programmes in education, food security, protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic.
At the request of the Government of Algeria, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been supporting the most food insecure refugees since 1986, covering basic food and nutrition needs.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Algeria
WFP continues its life-saving activities such as food assistance and nutrition support to pregnant and nursing women and children under 5. Due to the outbreak, the school feeding programme is suspended temporarily and other initiatives, like livelihood activities continue partially, run by partners and the local community. Distributions have been adjusted to limit the number of people present at distribution sites and ensure social distancing rules.
WFP’s Mother and Child Health programme combines prevention and treatment approaches to address anaemia, stunting and malnutrition among children aged under 5, and pregnant and nursing women, through 29 health centres. WFP assistance includes the provision of oil, sugar, specialized nutritious foods and fresh food vouchers. WFP increasingly focuses on improving nutritional awareness through Social Behavior Change Communication (SBCC).
WFP distributes almost 134,000 in-kind rations to meet the basic food and nutritional needs of food insecure refugees. The diversified food basket consists of between six and nine commodities and includes several types of cereals, pulses, sugar, vegetable oil and blended food for an overall caloric value of 2,100 calories per person per day. The food is distributed through 116 distribution points in all five camps.
To encourage children to enroll in, and attend school, WFP provides daily mid-morning snacks – in the form of milk and fortified biscuits– to around 40,000 children in all 31 kindergartens, 26 primary schools, 10 intermediary schools, 10 special needs centers and five koranic schools in the camps. WFP also rehabilitates and constructs school kitchens and stores.
WFP also implements complementary activities that improve Sahrawi refugees’ food security and nutrition, by providing them with livelihood opportunities in the refugee camps. The new resilience approach includes activities, such as green fodder production using low-tech hydroponics and a fish farm.