Millions at risk in East Africa – UN agencies

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Millions of displaced families across East Africa will suffer hunger as food rations dwindle due to stretched humanitarian resources as the world grapples with a toxic cocktail of conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19, UN humanitarians warned this week.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said spiralling costs of food and fuel added to the toxic mix.

Despite efforts to stretch resources through prioritisation schemes, the agencies have to prioritise food assistance for the most vulnerable families they said in a statement, while the sheer number of refugees needing support has grown, along with the gap between resourcing and needs.

In the past decade the number of refugees in eastern Africa has almost tripled, from 1.82 million in 2012 to just on five million today including 300 000 new refugees last year alone.

The growth in refugee numbers has not been matched by a growth in resources, forcing WFP to make difficult decisions about who receives food assistance and who goes without. More than 70% of refugees in need do not receive a full ration due to funding shortfalls.

“Refugees and internally displaced people are at the centre of food ration cuts, compounding a desperate situation for millions uprooted from their homes and often relying on aid to survive,” Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s Regional Bureau Director for the East, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, said.

“More and more children under five experience high levels of stunting and wasting as they lack the nutrients to grow and develop.

“Families do not know where their next meal will come from and take on huge debt, sell off what they can or sending their children to work,” she said adding the risk of domestic violence is rising

A sharp increase in food and fuel costs and conflict caused displacement are compounded by a worsening climate crisis.

Globally, floods and droughts are more frequent and intense, severely impacting countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan and worsening food insecurity.

“The unfortunate reality is East Africa is confronted with a year of unprecedented humanitarian needs, driven by severe climate shocks, ongoing conflict and instability and surging food and fuel prices,” Michael Dunford, WFP East Africa Regional Director, said.

The growth in needs here mirrors what we see happening around the globe and we implore the world not to turn its back on this region and, particularly, the extremely vulnerable refugee communities who have limited access to livelihoods and rely on WFP to survive.”

Food insecurity is likely to rise by seven percent across South Sudan in the coming months, compared to last year, according to a new UN report on food security, leading humanitarians to renew their call for more humanitarian and livelihoods assistance to stave off hunger and enhance resilience.

The cocktail of factors driving the worsening trend in food security for East Africa will leave 7.74 million people (62,7% of the population) facing acute food insecurity during the lean season between April and July according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis.

The most affected states are Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile, Lakes, Eastern Equatoria (Kapoeta East) and Warrap – more than 80% of food insecure.

The UN food agency (FAO) and the world body’ children’s agency (UNICEF) added their voices to those of WFP warning greater humanitarian assistance and livelihood support is needed immediately to save lives and prevent collapse of livelihoods in worst affected locations across South Sudan.