Food for 750,000 Refugees to Run Out by Oct as Agencies Appeal for Aid

ADDIS ABABA – Three aid agencies have today appealed for 73 million US dollars to continue providing food rations to over 750,000 refugees in Ethiopia, over the next six months.

The appeal was made by the UN World Food Program (WFP), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the Ethiopian Government Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) in a joint statement issued on Tuesday.

“WFP will completely run out of food for refugees by October, leaving vulnerable families who are dependent on food assistance at risk of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, susceptibility to diseases/infection, and increased protection risks,” the three agencies warn.

Due to protracted funding shortfalls, WFP has already been forced to cut rations for 750,000 registered refugees living in 22 camps and five sites in hosting communities in Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Somali and Tigray regions of Ethiopia.

Food rations for refugees in Ethiopia were first reduced by 16 percent in November 2015, by 40% in November 2021, and by 50% in June 2022.

Food insecurity amongst the refugees has risen as a result of the cuts and is even further compounded by current global limitations to food availability, economic shocks, rising costs of food and energy, the fallout of COVID-19, conflict, and insecurity.

To understand the impact of ration cuts on the food security and socio-economic situation of refugees, a rapid assessment was conducted in April based on 1,215 households residing in camps.

The results show that more households continued to adopt negative coping strategies by reducing the number of meals eaten in a day, consuming less expensive or less preferred foods, or limiting the portion of the meals served, the agencies said.

More households reported having engaged in demeaning activities, including engaging children in income generation activities, and the collection and sale of firewood, while several borrowed cash, relying on friends/relatives for food.

This forces refugees to rely on the resources of the hosting community and the environment they live in which also increases the likelihood of resource-based conflicts between refugees and host communities.

More resources must be mobilized urgently to meet the immediate food and non-food needs of refugees to avert further suffering, the agencies urged the international community

As a short-term measure, WFP and its partners continue to prioritize the needs of children aged 6 to 23 months and pregnant and breastfeeding women under the undernutrition prevention program – blanket supplementary feeding.

“Three-quarters of a million refugees will be left with nothing to eat in just a matter of weeks unless we receive funding immediately,” said Claude Jibidar, WFP’s Representative and Country Director for Ethiopia.

“The priority for us all must be to restore assistance to at least minimum levels for refugees, all of whom are solely reliant on WFP’s cash and food assistance for survival,” Jibidar said.

“We have a shortfall of US$73 million for refugees’ minimum needs and we are deeply concerned that if funding cuts continue, they may consider returning to their places of origin when it is unsafe.”

Ethiopia which has been striving to ensure the sustainable self-reliance of refugees and host communities with its scarce resources is struggling with recurrent funding gaps from the international community.

The subsequent deduction of the overall humanitarian assistance fund for refugees in the country in recent years has not only affected the immediate basic needs of refugees but also hindered their co-existence with host communities.

“The ongoing resource constraints create conflict and stress due to competition over the existing scarce local resources,” said Tesfahun Gobezay, RRS Director General.

“The persistent budget cuts and the recent 50% deduction of the food and cash assistance to refugees from the minimum recommended standard seriously affect the lives of refugees, exposing them to chronic hunger, anaemia, sexual exploitation, and deaths, as more than 85 percent of refugees in Ethiopia are fully dependent on the monthly WFP food rations,” he said.

“This will draw back the positive development of Ethiopia towards ensuring the self-reliance and co-existence of refugees and host communities and above all make the entire life-saving efforts difficult.”

At the moment, WFP, UNHCR, and RRS are prioritizing the food needs of refugees through biometric verification, ensuring accountability and entitlement to monthly food and cash assistance.

The three agencies are calling on all partners to strengthen efforts to address both the medium and long-term food needs of refugees, in line with the Government of Ethiopia’s 2019 Refugee Proclamation, and the commitments contained in the GCR and the CRRF.

Ethiopia hosts more than a million registered refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

Of these, about 750,000 are fully dependent on humanitarian food assistance, said the aid agencies who are now counting on the donor community for extended funding support for the refugees based on the principle of shared responsibility to implement basic humanitarian life-saving activities.

“We are grateful for what donors have provided so far, but more funding is needed quickly,” said UNHCR’s Deputy Representative in Ethiopia, Margaret Atieno.

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