About 130,000 refugees in Zambian camps have been on half-rations for more than three months because of logistical problems and a lack of money.
"Refugees are on half-rations since January because incoming contributions have been delayed for all sorts of reasons ... so it's taking a lot of time to get the food into the camps," Jorge Fanlo, WFP Deputy Country Director, told IRIN on Tuesday.
He said the agency had only managed to secure 9,689 mt of the 52,122 mt of food needed to feed the refugees properly, resulting in a "truck-to-mouth" operation over the past three months. WFP was trying to supplement the diets of child refugees under five years old by providing high energy protein supplements and working through NGOs, he added.
However, Fanlo said the worst was probably over as the lean season had ended. There would soon be a joint WFP/United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) assessment to determine refugees' needs.
Fanlo said reports through the lean season indicated that "refugees are coping somehow with their little gardens and living by eating wildfoods, trading and doing work" for food.
UNHCR spokesman Kelvin Shimo told IRIN the refugees had been informed of the aid shortfall and were very understanding, especially since local communities were also feeling the effects of the regional maize shortage. "Even local communities are [hungry]. For them [refugees] to get half rations, they are very fortunate," he said.
Zambia has about 280,000 refugees, mainly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also from other African states at war. Of these, Fanlo said, WFP feeds about 130,000 of the 165,000 refugees in camps every day. An average family of five usually received 90kg of food each month, in a hamper including maize, vegetable oil, beans and salt, he said. At the moment families are only receiving half of this.
Fanlo said the agency had expected in-kind deliveries to ease the shortage this month, but further delays meant that the refugees would only start receiving full rations around July. Carryover stocks from previous operations - which WFP has been using - were low as well, he added.
The European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) announced on Monday that it would donate about US $2,6 million to help with the growing number of refugees in Zambia. Only part of this money, however, is aimed at food relief.
ECHO said in a statement that the general objective was to cope with the consequences of new refugee movements from neighbouring states and to provide emergency services to new arrivals.
"The assistance provided by the Humanitarian Aid Office will support a range of activities for new arrivals and vulnerable groups in the refugee camps, including health screening, vaccinations, food aid and water/sanitation projects. Specific support will also go to children under five," it said.