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Starvation looms over refugees in Zambia; Aid cuts

Starvation looms over refugees in Zambia as lack of funds forces aid cuts – UN

Faced with severe shortages of food and funding, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) this week began slashing by half its food rations to refugees in Zambia so it can stretch existing provisions over the next two months.

But the newly measured combination of cereals, beans, vegetable oil and other foods will only last until the beginning of March, creating dire circumstances for the 80,000 Angolan and Congolese refugees now living in camps and settlements in this southern African nation.

“The lack of funding may lead to starvation of the Congolese and Angolan refugees,” said Jo Woods, spokesperson for WFP in the Zambian capital of Lusaka. The agency needs $8.5 million over the next 12 months but donor response has been poor.

Aiming to avert a crisis, on 23 December WFP, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Zambian Government issued an appeal for food aid for the refugees living in this landlocked African country. At that time, WFP Zambian Country Director David Stevenson said the agency would be forced to halve rations starting on 1 January.

“We simply have no choice,” he said, citing the fact that no contributions for 2006 had been received. “This is an extremely serious situation as these refugees live in camps and settlements in remote areas of Zambia and rely entirely on WFP for their food supplies.”

The previous 500-gram daily food ration for each person had been based on 2,100 calories a day and included 400 grams of cereals; 20 grams of pulses, such as beans; 25 grams of vegetable oil enriched with vitamin A; and 20 grams of sugar.

In September 2004, WFP was forced to cut food aid rations for three months to avoid a complete break in food relief. Malnutrition increased among refugees, leading to higher morbidity and mortality rates.

Working with International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners, UNHCR has organized the voluntary repatriation of over 63,000 refugees in the last three years. Last year, more than 17,600 Angolan refugees returned home under the UN refugee agency’s auspices, and more hope to return this year. UNHCR also aids refugee resettlement into other countries and, in certain cases, integration into Zambian communities.

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