The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has halved food rations to refugees living in camps in at least four African countries citing a funding shortfall.
The cuts have already affected 16,000 refugees in Malawi’s Dzaleka camp who have been on half rations since March, while a further 120,000 refugees in Uganda began receiving half rations of cereals in May.
According to WFP, another 100,000 refugees in Tanzania saw their maize rations cut by 50 percent starting from last week, and rations for some 54,000 refugees living in Rwanda are expected to be cut in August unless donors come forward with more funding.
“Even the full ration wasn’t enough,” said Sanky Kabeya, a 24-year-old resident of Dzaleka who spoke to IRIN at the end of March. “I haven’t taken breakfast this morning and many are in the same situation.”
Gustave Lwaba, another resident of the camp, said the usual monthly ration of 13kg of maize had gone down to 7kg, while rations of cooking oil, pigeon peas, sugar and salt had also been cut by half. "There are people in the camp who rely on relatives who've been resettled," he said. "The rest really starve because the rations can't last a month."
Michelle Carter, country director for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Malawi, which runs a number of educational and other programmes in the camp, said the cuts were “clearly leading to a fair amount of hunger… I know children are coming to school hungry,” she told IRIN.
“The food is only lasting two weeks and if they’re on their own it’s much worse because they can’t combine rations.”
|Even the full ration wasn't enough. I haven't taken breakfast this morning and many are in the same situation|
Noting that only a very small percentage of the refugees had any source of income, she said single mothers, unaccompanied minors and the elderly and disabled had been particularly hard hit by the reduced rations.
A protection officer with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Malawi, Gavin Lim, said his agency planned to carry out an assessment in the coming months to determine the full impact of the ration cuts but that reports of more women in the camp turning to survival sex were already coming in.
Difficult to become self-reliant
Most countries in southern and eastern Africa have an encampment policy for refugees which restricts their freedom of movement and reduces their chances of becoming self-reliant. Some earn a small income running informal businesses outside the camps but competition with often equally impoverished locals is fierce and has led to outbreaks of violence.
In May, a number of refugees who were selling goods at a small trading centre outside Dzaleka were assaulted by local traders who accused them of undermining their businesses. According to Carter, the Malawian government plans to withdraw trading licenses for refugees from July.
Many of Dzaleka's residents have lived in the camp for over a decade. Indeed, an increasing proportion of refugees today live in what UNHCR describes as "protracted" exile (in 2011, more than seven million refugees had lived outside their country for more than five years). Donors are increasingly reluctant to shoulder the burden of feeding these long-term refugees.
Commenting on the funding shortfall, WFP spokesperson for east and southern Africa David Orr said: "There is inevitably some donor fatigue regarding longstanding or protracted refugee loads; these funding issues affect more than just food."