The appeal for funds comes at a time when WFP officials fear that food aid needs could grow, if the June harvest in Bujumbura Rural fails due to regrouped populations having limited access to their land.
WFP has been providing food to regroupment sites in the area since October 1999. However, a deteriorating nutritional situation earlier this year prompted the agency to expand the operation to ensure more food reaches the tens of thousands of hungry families trying to survive in the ad-hoc sites.
"Some of these people have been living in very precarious circumstances for nearly a year now, and have less and less resistance to ward off malnutrition and disease," said Thomas Yanga, WFP's Representative for Burundi. "The only way they'll be able to cope in the months ahead, is if they continue to receive emergency food supplies in sufficient quantities to maintain their health."
WFP's emergency operation to assist regrouped populations in Bujumbura Rural will provide nearly 27,000 tons of food over the next six months to 350,000 people, at a cost of just over $16 million. WFP is currently relying on funds from the agency's own emergency cash reserves until donor contributions of food or cash are received.
Last month, in addition to its emergency food distributions to the regrouped, WFP distributed an additional 2,000 metric tons of food in Bujumbura Rural as seed protection rations. The food was given out with seeds provided by other agencies to 250,000 farming households. This ensures that families have enough food to eat during the physically-demanding planting season, and helps them avoid the hunger-driven temptation to consume the seeds needed for planting.
"We're doing everything possible to help families plant for this next harvest, because if that fails, we'll be faced with trying to feed everyone through to next year. And with our current funding problems, we know that may be difficult for us to do," said Yanga.
As the Government of Burundi moves ahead with plans to dismantle some of these camps - which are within a 50-kilometre radius of the nation's capital - WFP will support the re-integration of this population back in their home communities.
Burundi has the largest internally displaced population of any country in the Great Lakes region, with over 800,000 people (12.5 percent of the country's population) living away from their homes in difficult circumstances. Many have left voluntarily due to the country's often-volatile security circumstances, while the Government has regrouped others.
The first cases of large-scale regroupment began in late 1996 when populations living in the northern provinces of Kayanza and Karuzi, followed later by Muramvya and Cibitoke, were advised to leave their homes and seek protection from rebel attacks near military outposts. In late 1997, the majority of the people who had been regrouped were able to return to their homes, but by then, some had remained in sites for over one year and needed tremendous international support in order to rebuild their lives.
The United Nations, on many occasions, has openly denounced the policy of regrouping communities, which it views as a violation of basic human rights and freedoms.