updated 9/14/2005 11:06:32 AM ET 2005-09-14T15:06:32

The U.N. refugee and food agencies’ chiefs on Wednesday made a joint appeal to donors for more money to alleviate shortages of survival rations for people displaced by war across Africa.

Because of a lack of funds, the World Food Program has been forced to cut rations for hundreds of thousands of refugees, particularly in West Africa and the Great Lakes region in the east of the continent.

“Refugees in camps and remote settlements are extremely vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. They rely upon the generosity of their hosts and the international community for the most basic food and other items,” said WFP head James Morris.

When food scarce, turn to desperate measures
WFP needs $219 million more to fund its refugee-related operations until the end of 2005, while the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is facing a projected shortfall of $181.5 million for this year, the two agencies said.

The cuts in rations only exacerbates suffering among refugees, especially because supplementary feeding programs for young children and pregnant women have also been cut back, the agencies said.

“We are particularly worried about the health of the refugee population, domestic violence and refugees resorting to illegal employment or even to prostitution, just to put enough food on the table,” said High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. “When food becomes scarce, refugees often turn to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families.”

In the past 11 months, WFP has been able to provide only two-thirds the daily requirements for 400,000 refugees in Tanzania’s camps.

“Although the situation has now slightly improved, additional contributions are urgently needed to prevent further cuts in rations,” the agencies said.

Refugees return home threatened
The funding shortfall also threatens some repatriation operations, particularly the return of 50,000 Rwandan refugees in 14 other African countries. After 10 years in exile, many of the refugees are returning to no jobs and no land to cultivate. But at the moment, WFP can only afford to give each refugee one month’s supply of food.

“Without even the prospect of some food to keep them alive while they settle in, few are willing to go back,” the statement added.

Morris and Guterres also expressed concern about proposals at the World Trade Organization to restrict food aid, saying refugees’ purchasing power and impact in global farm trade is almost nonexistent.

The issue of food aid is part of WTO negotiations on liberalizing farm trade, which has proven to be one of the main stumbling blocks to efforts to agree a new global accord. The European Union has previously questioned whether U.S. food aid programs for poor countries were used as a way of getting rid of excess agricultural production and propping up prices.

“In a climate where we already face serious difficulties providing them with the most basic survival rations, it’s hard to fathom why we would want to limit the options even further,” Guterres said.

The two U.N. agencies work together to provide essential food rations to 2 million refugees in the developing world.

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