Guardian: Tensions flare as food rations to refugees slashed by half in Uganda

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World Food Programme forced to cut grain handouts as lack of funding and sheer number of people fleeing South Sudan’s conflict leave agencies overwhelmed

Samuel Okiror in Kampala
Monday 9 October 2017 08.23 EDT

The flood of people fleeing South Sudan, coupled with delays and constraints on funding, has lead to food rations to refugees being slashed by half.

According to agencies working on the ground in Uganda, where most of the refugees have been arriving from the conflict across the border, food supply lines are being shut down and distribution of aid becoming increasing irregular.

The UN’s World Food Programme said it was forced to cut the amount of grain it was handing out due to delayed payments. 

“When the funding comes late it takes a bit longer to secure the cereals. It means that you have to go to the markets to procure, transport, store and distribute,” said El Khidir Daloum, WFP director for Uganda.

In the last fortnight, South Sudanese refugees at Nyumanzi settlement in Adjumani, which hosts about 20,000 people, protested in front of officials from the prime minister’s office.

Titus Jogo, refugee desk officer in Adjumani, said that they had to calm people down and explain that WFP did not have enough stock this month.

Andie Lambe, executive director at International Refugee Rights Initiative, said: “Our understanding is that the ration cuts this month were as a result of a break in the food pipeline within WFP and that these cuts are both temporary and that the gap was substituted with a cash equivalent of the missing ration. In addition, WFP assured us that this would not be applied to recent arrivals and vulnerable households.

“The refugees are dependent on handouts due to the lack of alternatives for them to support themselves. When rumours of rations being permanently cut or stopped altogether are combined with actual cuts and without clear explanation being given for this, tensions will increase and it is not unreasonable for refugees to voice their disquiet.”

The sheer scale of the disaster, in which more than 86% of refugees are women and children, means that strains have been put on already scarce resources.

“Uganda is dealing with a refugee crisis of historic proportions and the country and its humanitarian partners have not been able to meet the needs of one million South Sudanese who have sought protection from violence in a relatively short amount of time,” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh of Refugees International.

“Uganda has an exemplary refugee policy and has done what it can to provide safe harbour and land to refugees, but the needs of refugees outstrip the capacity of humanitarian responders, given that the funding simply isn’t there,” she said.

In May this year, WFP was forced to cut food rations to refugees in the east African nation by 50% due to severe funding shortages. The agency need an estimated $167m (£126m) to provide aid through to the end of the year, but donors contributed only $30m as of September.

WFP needs $62m to help scale up, sustain and expand life-saving assistance and protection for the next six months of more than 1.3 million refugees.

“Every month we need $20m to feed the refugees in Uganda. For the next six months we have a shortage of $62m to $85m for refugees,” said Daloum. “We know what it takes to secure those resources, but at the same time, this is a life-saving issue.”

The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, and the UN secretary general, António Guterres, hosted a summit in June in Kampala to call for action for South Sudanese refugees, with $674m needed to support them in 2017. However by August, only 21% of that sum had been raised.