UN Food Distributions are critical for Somali Refugees in Kenya

Two weeks ago, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it will cut food rations by 30 percent for the hundreds of thousands of Somalis in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya. WFP said the decision was the result of funding shortfalls. However, many of the Somali refugees believe the reductions are the result of a Kenyan government move to close Dadaab and push the Somali refugees toward “voluntary” repatriation to Somalia.

“This is one good way of forcing us to go back to Somalia. With our food rations reduced by more than 30 percent, the Kenyan government and the World Food Programme (WFP) are pushing us to the wall. They want us to leave Kenya,” said Rukia Abdullahi, a mother of six children who lives in Dadaab.

But WFP officials denied that there is a relationship between the food ration reduction in the camps and the push toward repatriation.

‘’It’s a very unfortunate coincidence that reductions in food rations and the calls to close Dadaab are happening at the same time. Reduced food has nothing to do with repatriation. The reductions are a result of funding issues,” said Martin Karimi, a WFP communication officer.

“With our food rations reduced by more than 30 percent, the Kenyan government and the World Food Programme (WFP) are pushing us to the wall.”

Rukia Abdullahi, Somali refugee and mother of six children

Prolonged ration cuts compromise refugees’ nutrition and health. Each month, WFP provides each refugee with a mix of food items – cereals, pulses, vegetable oil, and nutrient-enriched flour – and a cash transfer equivalent to a third of the minimum food requirement. The cash, sent through mobile telephones, allows refugees to buy food products of their choice from local markets. Any reduction in rations or cash payments put men, women, and children at risk, with few alternatives for securing food. However, after more than a year of ration cuts, new donor contributions have now allowed the WFP to resume providing full food rations to the refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma

Starting this month, WFP will reduce the share of food while keeping the cash transfers unchanged. Overall, refugees living in Dadaab and Kakuma camps will receive a food ration equivalent to 70 percent of their requirements.

In addition, WFP will not provide fortified flour to the general population as the low stocks remaining will be prioritized for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers through health clinics.   This may lead to a rise in levels of malnutrition among the refugees.

“Cutting rations is a last resort and we hope that it is only a short-term measure as we continue to appeal to the international community to assist, If new funds are received immediately, WFP can quickly mobilize food stocks from within the region and/or increase the amount of cash transfers to the refugees which would allow them to buy adequate,” said Conte. “An abrupt halt to food assistance would be devastating for the refugees, most of whom rely fully on WFP for their daily meals. WFP has provided food and cash to refugees this year thanks to the generosity of donations from Canada, China, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Germany, Hungary, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.’’

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, ‘Every time food rations are reduced, we experience high levels of malnutrition, particularly among children.’

Leading health organizations working in Dadaab, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have also expressed concerns.  According to an MSF statement on food ration reductions: “Our medical teams are still very concerned about the health of the refugees. Every time food rations are reduced, we experience high levels of malnutrition, particularly among children.”

‘’A 30 percent reduction seems better than was the case several months ago, when food rations were reduced by 50 percent. Unfortunately, we are getting used to this,’’ Ahmed Farah a student leader said.

The WFP food distributions are critical to the refugees in Dadaab since they are not allowed to move freely and purchase or grow food independently. The camps in Kenya and support for the refugees there are essential given the current state of Somalia and the new limitations on resettlement to the United States. No other durable solutions for the Somali refugees exist, other than the continuation of the Dadaab and Kakuma camps and the international support needed to make life in the camps viable.


*Abdullahi Mire is a freelance journalist who writes about humanitarian issues and in particular about the rights of refugees and displaced people in Somalia and Kenya. @Miire06