UNHCR, THE UN REFUGEE AGENCY, and the World Food Programme (WFP) have appealed for US$266 million to end food ration cuts for over 3 million refugees in Eastern Africa.

Funding shortages have forced cuts of up to 60 per cent. The agencies warned of growing risks including increased malnutrition and anaemia, stunted child growth and a myriad of protection risks.

The impact of the funding shortfalls on refugee families is compounded by Covid-19 lockdowns and measures to contain the pandemic’s spread, which had already reduced the availability of food in markets in refugee camps and wrecked many refugees’ hopes of helping to support their families through casual labour and small businesses.

“The pandemic has been devastating for everyone, but for refugees even more so”, said Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s Regional Bureau Director for the East, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes. “Unless more funds are made available, thousands of refugees including children will not have enough to eat.”

“Protection concerns are growing. Food ration or cash cuts are resulting in negative coping strategies to meet their basic food needs – such as skipping or reducing meals, taking loans with high interest, selling assets, child labour, and increased domestic violence. There is often a desperation and a feeling of no alternative”, she said.

“We must start meeting the food and nutritional needs of refugees in the region now”, said Michael Dunford, WFP Regional Director for Eastern Africa. “The immediate priority for us all must be to restore assistance to at least minimum levels for refugees, many of whom lost the lifeline of remittances due to the global impact of Covid-19.”

“We’ve never had such a terrible funding situation for refugees. We have a US$266 million shortfall for the next six months for refugees’ minimum needs. We are deeply concerned that if cuts continue, they will be faced with a very difficult decision: stay in the camps where food and nutrition security is deteriorating or consider risking going back when it is unsafe.”

In the 11 countries covered by UNHCR’s Bureau for the East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, 72 per cent of 4.7 million refugees face food cuts on top of funding shortfalls already for UNHCR’s non-food assistance and support.

Funding shortfalls have forced the WFP to slash its monthly assistance for refugees by up to 60 per cent in Rwanda, 40 per cent in Uganda and Kenya, 30 per cent in South Sudan, 23 per cent in Djibouti and 16 per cent in Ethiopia.

Almost 140,000 refugees and asylum seekers live in Rwanda, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. The WFP supports 138,000 refugees in camps and 12,500 children from the host community who attend the same schools as refugees and receive school meals. The 60 per cent cut is unprecedented and will only worsen food insecurity.

The WFP predominantly supports refugees in Rwanda with cash transfers so relatively little additional funding could reverse the cuts. The agency needs US$11 million to provide refugees in Rwanda with full cash or food rations through to August.

In Kenya, the WFP has reduced food rations for 417,000 refugees by 40 per cent. It needs US$61 million to provide full food and nutrition assistance to refugees from March through to August. In Tanzania, WFP rations for 280,000 refugees are cut by 32 per cent of the minimum recommended kilocalorie requirement. The WFP needs US$17 million for refugees in Tanzania up to August.

Uganda hosts the largest refugee population in Africa and in February, the WFP cut food assistance to 1.27 million refugees by 40 per cent of the basic survival ration. US$77 million is needed through August to provide full rations. In South Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, the WFP requires US$82 million to provide full assistance through to August for almost 1 million refugees.

Only refugees in Burundi and Sudan are receiving full rations. They need a total of US$18 million through to August.

* Source: UNHCR, the Refugee Agency