Tanzania: Food situation in refugee camps ''dire''

DAR ES SALAAM, 19 February (IRIN) - Lack of funding to feed the 500,000 refugees in Tanzania's refugee camps is leading to a "dire" situation, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) told IRIN on Wednesday.
Both agencies have described the situation as the "worst ever", and said it had led to repeated calls for donor action. Furthermore, the Tanzanian authorities have reacted by warning that they might expel the refugees if the situation were to get out of hand.

"The situation is dire," said Ivana Unluova, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Tanzania. "We have never seen it this bad, and we are extremely concerned as to how long this situation can be maintained." She added that UNHCR had been trying to mobilise donors, and that some donations in kind and cash may be in the pipeline. But, she added, "It takes a long time for the food to reach the camps."

WFP said it would do its best to ensure that - although rations had already been halved - it would never run out of food. "Physically running out of food is not an option, and it will not happen," Mario Leeflang, a WFP official, told IRIN. "Our last official projection shows that we will run out of food in April, but we have made arrangements to borrow from WFP's Malawi operation, as well as from our development projects in country." He said a 16,000-mt shipment of food from the United States was due to arrive in June.

"The donors have responded too late," he said. "We sent out appeals in September, but have had no contributions since the EU allotment in July last year. We usually plan six months in advance, so even when there is money, it takes time for the food to actually reach the refugee camps, and we need a steady flow."

Leeflang described the prospect of having to maintain the 50-percent ration cut on a long-term basis as "unacceptable".

The Tanzanian government agrees and has told WFP that the reductions in rations should only be a temporary measure, because the government is concerned about the impact this scenario might have on Tanzanians living near the camps. "We are afraid that we may have riots in the refugee camps because of hungry refugees," Omar Ramadhani Mapuri, the minister of home affairs, told IRIN. "They might then leave their camps and run rampant in the villages."

"We have said that we would not be prepared to be put into such a situation, and the alarm has been sounded. Should things deteriorate to this extent, we may have to consider the possibility of repatriating the refugees forcefully," he said.


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