UN Refugee Agency warns African refugees may starve as COVID-19 worsen

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have warned of an impending hunger and malnutrition among millions of refugees in Africa as COVID-19 impact worsens.

The UNHCR and WFP in a joint statement on Thursday said that the refugees might also be starved due to the dwindling funds of humanitarian aid.

The statement said that the supply chain challenges, rising food prices and loss of income due to COVID-19 would worsen if urgent actions are not taken.

It said that of the about 1.2 billion dollars needed to care for refugees in 2020, more than half was for operations in Africa, noting that the funds had gravely dwindled, already forcing cuts in food rations.

It stated that WFP was providing food assistance to more than 10 million refugees worldwide.

It said that the assistance include those in the world’s largest refugee settlements, such as Bidibidi settlement in Uganda, where rations were reduced by 30 per cent in April due to lack of fund.

”Refugee populations who were previously able to feed and fend for themselves, including many living in urban areas and those working in the informal economy, are also facing significant challenges.

“Large numbers have lost their only source of income as work possibilities disappeared due to COVID-19 prevention measures.

“Most are not covered by social protection schemes, leaving many families destitute and dependent on humanitarian assistance,” it stated.

It added that many refugees in South Africa were in danger of being evicted and had approached UNHCR helplines in desperate need of food and support.

”At the same time, import and export restrictions are squeezing supply chains.

“In the landlocked Sahel, COVID-19 prevention measures such as border closures and movement restrictions limits capacity to transport products in a region where escalating insecurity, violence and conflict.

“Compounded by the impact of climate change and poverty, has disrupted food security and livelihoods for millions of people,” it said.

It noted that assistance for vulnerable groups, including more than 1.2 million refugees in the region, needed to be sustained.

It said that in Cameroon, WFP was forced to reduce its assistance to refugees from the Central African Republic by 50 per cent in May and June due to funding gaps, adding that based on current funding levels, it would have to stop cash assistance entirely from August.

It added that in the Republic of Congo, the average price of a basic food basket has increased by 15 per cent while in Rwanda, WFP market monitoring around refugee camps found food prices were already on average 27 per cent higher in April 2020 compared to 2019, and 40 per cent higher than in 2018.

“As a result of these challenges, many refugees are resorting to negative coping mechanisms, such as skipping meals or reducing meal portions.

“More than 80 per cent of refugees in South Sudan are estimated to be resorting to such measures. In some cases, refugees are resorting to begging, transactional sex or early or forced marriages to be able to afford food.

”UNHCR and WFP are, however, concerned about the negative impact of reduced assistance on refugees and urged donors in the international community to provide further funding to ensure refugees do not face starvation,” it said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said that millions of refugees throughout Africa were currently reliant on regular aid to meet their food needs.

Grandi said that in view of the economic challenges and poor funding occasioned by the unending pandemic, the refugees needed the assistance of the UN now more than ever.

“Around half are children, who may develop life-long difficulties if deprived of food at vital stages in their development,” Grandi said.

David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director, says, “Unless urgent action is taken to address the situation, levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anemia are expected to rise.

“In refugee camps in Ethiopia, 62 per cent of children is experiencing critical levels of anemia.

“While the situation continues to deteriorate for everyone, the disaster is magnified for refugees who have absolutely nothing to cushion their fall.

“In the best of times, refugees live in cramped conditions, struggle to meet basic needs and often have no option but to rely on outside assistance for survival.

“Now more than ever, they need lifesaving support”, he said.

According to him, globally, WFP activities supporting refugees have a net funding requirement of more than 1.2 billion dollars from July to December of which 694 million dollars was for operations in Africa.

“African governments are urged to ensure refugees and displaced populations are included in social safety nets and COVID-19 response plans.

“This is in line with commitments to the Global Compact on Refugees, to ensure they are able to access food and emergency cash assistance.”

Leave a Reply