Kenya + 5 more

Food supplies dwindle at Kenya refugee camp; IRC raises concern in Washington

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In arid and dusty northwestern Kenya, the lives of tens of thousands of refugees who sought safety at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, are once again being threatened. This time the cause is food scarcity.
Kakuma, now 10-years old, is home to mostly Sudanese refugees, but also Somalis, Ethiopians, Burundians, Congolese and Ugandans -- all who have fled ongoing violent conflict at home.

Water is in short supply in this area and the land is not suitable for farming. There is competition over scarce resources with sometimes hostile local communities. The refugees are also forbidden by Kenya's government to integrate.

At Kakuma, the refugees are almost completely dependent on international humanitarian assistance for food and other supplies. Over the past two years, the United States has provided nearly 70% of food aid for Kakuma.

But with global attention and charity being directed toward other refugees, such as the Afghans, resources for Kakuma are drying up and it's having an affect on the refugees who found sanctuary there.

"There is a high rate of malnutrition in Kakuma," says Jason Phillips, the IRC's director in Kenya, in testimony today before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Colombia. "This represents a complete abandonment of minimum international humanitarian standards for food assistance."

Phillips says the current level of malnutrition, estimated at 17.3%, is a rate that one would expect during a nutritional emergency -- not in a "care and maintenance" refugee camp that has been in existence for a decade.

The Senate committee was meeting today to evaluate how the Bush Administration's budget for fiscal year 2003, which proposes eliminating surplus commodity donations abroad, will affect partner aid organizations, the populations they help to feed, and America's response to reduce global hunger.

"The high malnutrition rate suggests that there are many vulnerable people in Kakuma who, under continuing poor or deteriorating general rations, stand to slide into a life-threatening situation," says Phillips.

Laying out the bleak scenario, Phillips says the World Food Program food pipeline is in critical condition, with its wheat flour stocks already gone. He said a U.S. pledge to cover the wheat supply for five to six months was made, but the shipment has not arrived. Vegetable oil has run out completely.

The IRC runs feeding centers for the most severely malnourished, children under five, as well as pregnant and lactating women. The IRC also continues to oversee all curative and preventative health services as well as sanitation services at the camp to avert the spread of infectious diseases.

"The cruel irony is that the developing nutritional emergency in Kakuma will not only likely lead to loss of life," Phillips says in his statement, "But also significant financial costs to donors -- above and beyond the costs of meeting minimum food assistance standards -- to treat, and rehabilitate the victims of increasing and severe malnutrition." Phillips also points out that reductions in food aid and other programs for refugees in Kakuma could also be expected to lead to a deterioration of security.

With the United States being the main financier of food programs for Kakuma, Phillips says the U.S. role can only move in three directions:

  • Maintaining minimum standards

  • Finding solutions to the dependency faced by refugees at Kakuma and the high ratio of U.S. involvement

  • Further cutbacks of resources with the result of more refugees suffering and dying, triggering a more costly intervention to provide life-saving health care.
Phillips offers a number of recommendations to the Senate committee that would both reduce the U.S. share of assistance to Kenya and offer its refugees the chance of a better life:
  • Multilateral diplomacy with the rest of the donor community to share the Kakuma burden

  • Diplomacy with the Kenyan government to expand opportunities for local integration

  • Support resettlement as a durable solution for those for whom repatriation is not an option

  • Increase development aid in Sudan and elsewhere in the region to encourage repatriation

  • Expand U.S. peace-building role in countries generating refugees in Kenya
Read Phillips' complete testimony here.

Additional information

Media relations:

Edward Bligh (New York, HQ) (212) 551-3114
ebligh@theIRC.org

Melissa Winkler (New York, HQ) (212) 551-0972
melissa@theirc.org

Program activities:

Semir Tanovic (New York, HQ) (212) 551 -3069
semir@theirc.org