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The World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) appealed recently to donors to contribute funds so that a 25 percent reduction from January onwards in food or cash assistance for more than 100,000 refugees in Rwanda can be reversed as soon as possible.
Some 130,000 refugees in camps depend on the World Food Programme for food — but it simply isn’t enough.
Five months of reduced assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) for refugees in Rwanda is now causing increasing hunger.
This comes amidst widespread fears that their suffering, compounded by malnutrition among women and children, will only deepen unless the cuts are reversed.
Stella Mukasine, 36, is a Congolese mother who in addition to her four children takes care of four nephews orphaned during conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She, her husband and children fled to Rwanda in 1996 and settled in Gihembe camp in northern Rwanda.
Full rations for refugees provide 2,100 kilocalories per person per day, the minimum for a healthy life. Until November 2017, WFP provided 17 kg of food to each refugee in Mahama camp each month — mainly maize, beans, vegetable oil and salt.
Refugees in the other five camps across Rwanda received 7,600 Rwandan Francs (US$9) each in cash from WFP, to buy their food in local markets.
But funding shortages meant WFP cut assistance by 10 percent in November and December. They were the first ration cuts in Rwanda since 2012. The continued lack of funding meant WFP cut food and cash by 25 percent from January.
Sparked by the reductions in food assistance, Congolese refugees from Kibiza camp staged protests and clashed with police in February, and a total of 11 refugees were killed and 50 wounded. The refugees also complained about a lack of livelihoods opportunities and protection-related issues.
Despite the reductions, WFP has maintained full rations of targeted nutrition support to refugees identified as particularly vulnerable, such as children under 2, schoolchildren, and pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as people living with HIV and tuberculosis patients under treatment. A total of 70,000 refugees including 50,000 schoolchildren are being assisted.
A WFP survey in February of over 1,000 refugees in the six camps, compared with a survey shortly before the cuts, found that 10 percent fewer refugee families said that they considered their food consumption was acceptable.
The percentage of refugees reporting borderline or poor food consumption had doubled from 10 percent in October 2017 to 20.4 percent in January.
The number of refugees reporting that they had poor food consumption rose from 1 percent before the cuts in November 2017 to 2.7 percent in January 2018. The percentage with borderline consumption rose from 9 percent to 17.4 percent.
The number of different types of food consumed by the refugees dropped from 4.3 last October to 2.4 in January. The food groups monitored are starches, pulses, meat, oils and fats, vegetables, fruit, and milk and dairy products.
The survey found families were increasingly stressed about how to meet their daily food needs. The most common measures to eke out food were cutting the amount, reducing the number of meals and relying on less preferred foods.
The number of families who reduced the amount of food they ate rose from 34 percent in October to 88 percent in January. The number limiting the size of meals rose almost identically from 34 percent in October to 89 percent in January.
Out of those who said that they were still managing to maintain their access to food, 58 percent said in January they were now borrowing food or relying on help from relatives or friends compared to 25 percent in October 2017.
The percentage of families who said that they were relying on less preferred and cheaper food rose from 52 percent in October to 78 percent in January.
On what refugees were forced to resort to in order to survive — the number sending their children to work went from none before the cuts to three percent in January. A similar increase was seen in families who said they sent their children out to beg — from none in October to 2 percent in January.
The percentage of families reporting that they were borrowing money or falling into debt rose to 90 percent from 37 percent in October last year.
WFP relies on voluntary contributions. It needs US$2.5 million each month to provide full food or cash assistance to the Congolese and Burundian refugees in Rwanda. Some US$8 million is needed to restore full support for the next six month.
Written by Noel Dukuzumuremyi
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