By Kristy Siegfried -allAfrica.com
Johannesburg — The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have launched an urgent appeal to address a funding shortfall that has already resulted in food ration cuts for a third of all African refugees.
As of mid-June, nearly 800,000 refugees in 22 African countries have seen their monthly food allocations reduced, most of them by more than half.
WFP is appealing for US$186 million to maintain its food assistance to refugees in Africa through the end of the year, while UNHCR is asking for $39 million to fund nutritional support and food security activities to refugees in the affected countries.
A joint report by WFP and UNHCR released last week warns that failure to prevent continued ration cuts will lead to high levels of malnutrition, particularly among children and the most vulnerable.
The funding shortfall is not the result of shrinking budgets for either WFP or UNHCR, but a substantial increase in the need for food assistance generated by an unprecedented number of refugee emergencies in 2014.
“The amount of large-scale, simultaneous emergencies has never been so high to the best of my memory,” said Paul Spiegel, UNHCR’s deputy director of programme support and management, speaking to IRIN from Geneva.
Out of a global figure of 11.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s protection at the end of 2013, the highest number since 2001, 3.3 million live in Africa.
“There has also been a lot of earmarking [by donors] for certain situations, particularly the Syrian situation,” he added. “Some situations, particularly CAR, have been severely under-funded so there is an equity issue here that needs to be dealt with. Protracted refugee situations have also not had the same level of funding.”
Only about a quarter of those affected by the ration cuts are new arrivals, according to Spiegel. The rest are long-term refugees who have been unable to wean themselves off food aid, usually because they are confined to remote camps where there are little or no possibilities for them to generate an income.
Camps or communities?
As donors increasingly prioritize funding for the emergency phase of refugee crises over protracted situations, UNHCR has had to shift its approach in the last two years.
“The big shift has been that we’re looking at saying ‘if we can avoid camps, let’s do so’,” explained Spiegel. “Having refugees be amongst local communities is better for so many different reasons: it allows them to be more self-reliant, reduces long-term dependence and UNHCR can use its funding to improve existing communities.”
But while UNHCR is advocating that refugees be allowed to settle in communities rather than in camps, governments have the final say when it comes to the refugees they host.
For now, few are willing to grant refugees even basic economic freedoms such as the right to work and live outside of camps. Overcoming this reluctance will mean convincing host nations that, given the chance, refugees have the capacity to boost rather than burden local economies.
“We’re now gathering more and more information in Africa and the Middle East to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it’s done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities,” Spiegel told IRIN.
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