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Refugees in Zambia risk hunger as WFP cuts back on aid: UNHCR

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Lusaka, Zambia_(dpa) _ The decision by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to phase out food aid to refugees in two camps in Zambia will leave about 3,000 people vulnerable to hunger, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday.

UNHCR Representative to Zambia James Lynch said the WFP had informed his office that it would stop providing food to all but the most vulnerable refugees at Zambia's Meheba and Mayukwayukwa camps in 2009.

The two camps in Zambia's North-Western and Western provinces are hosting a combined population of 26,300 refugees, mainly Angolans who fled that country's 25-year civil war that ended in 2002.

The WFP is currently assisting 9,000 of the refugees.

"While the majority of refugees in these settlements don't need food assistance because they have attained self-sufficiency from agriculture - through land provided to them by the government - and other sources of livelihood, we are worried for the very vulnerable persons who still need assistance" Lynch said.

The UNHCR's deputy representative Fernando Protti-Alvarado said the withdrawal of food aid would result in malnutrition in young children "and a potential increase in sex-for-food transactions, leading to higher incidences of sexually transmitted diseases."

The WFP said it was forced to cut back on aid because the number of total number of refugees requiring assistance was higher than expected.

Some of the Angolan and Congolese refuges that had been expected to return to their countries had failed to do so, UNHCR spokesperson in Zambia, Kelvin Shimo said.

The WFP began the phased withdrawal of food assistance to the camps in October.

Zambia currently hosts more than 86,000 refugees, including around 56,000 in camps. Congolese make up the majority of refugees, followed by Angolans and smaller numbers from Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia.

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