WFP to halve rations for 82,000 refugees in Zambia
Faced with severe shortages of food and funding, WFP plans to reduce rations by half to the 82,000 refugees from 1 January to assure them some level of food assistance in the months ahead.
"This is certainly not our preferred course of action. We simply have no choice. Although we had a stable pipeline for refugees through to December this year, we have received no contributions for 2006."
"From 1 January, WFP will be forced to reduce rations by 50 percent," said David Stevenson, WFP Zambia Country Director.
"This is an extremely serious situation as these refugees live in camps and settlements in remote areas of Zambia and rely entirely on WFP for their food supplies," Stevenson added.
Urgently in need of assistance
WFP urgently requires international assistance to provide an adequate food assistance package to all the refugees who remain in camps in 2006, as well as those who choose to return home.
"There will be increased morbidity, mortality and stunted growth," said Ahmed Said Farah, UNHCR regional representative in Zambia.
"Social problems, such as prostitution and child labour, will increase and refugees may become uncontrollable as a result of the food cuts. UNHCR shares WFP's concerns and fully supports its call for funds so that we can provide adequate food to refugees in Zambia."
UNHCR, in collaboration with International Organization for Migration and other partners, has organized the voluntary repatriation of over 63,000 refugees in the last three years.
In 2005, over 17,600 Angolan refugees returned home under UNHCR's auspices, and more hope to return next year.
UNHCR also aids refugee resettlement into other countries and integration into Zambian communities in certain cases.
In September 2004, WFP was forced to cut food aid rations for three months to avoid a complete break in food aid.
As a result, malnutrition among refugees increased, leading to higher morbidity and mortality rates.
Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, rose as refugees turned to prostitution in exchange for food.
Tension between refugees and host communities grew and school enrolment dropped as children had to help their parents forage for wild foods.
Both the Government of Zambia and its partners are trying to find durable solutions for the refugees.
The Government of Zambia provides land to refugees living in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa settlements in Western Zambia. This project, called the Zambia Initiative, aims to improve living conditions and create opportunities for refugees and host communities to strengthen agricultural activities that increase food security.
WFP also works closely with the Government and partners in a pilot project aimed to encourage drought-resistant cassava production.
"Zambia has been very generous in hosting refugees for years," said UNHCR's Farah ."It is now up to the international community to do its share by funding the World Food Programme."