Western Saharan refugees face looming food shortage, UN agencies warn
Nov.3, Geneva: Three United Nations agencies operating in Algeria appealed today for continued donor support for refugees from Western Sahara, warning that insufficient funding makes imminent a cut in basic food rations.
“For more than 40 years, the Sahrawi refugees have been living under extremely harsh conditions in the Sahara desert in south-western Algeria. Hosted in five camps close to the town of Tindouf, they remain heavily dependent on external humanitarian assistance,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP), together with the Office of the UN Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a joint news release.
According to the release, WFP represents the most important source of food in the camps. The UN agencies caution that the halt or reduction of that assistance would have a severe impact on the refugees’ food security and nutritional status – especially young children, pregnant and nursing women, the elderly and the sick.
“At the [UN Summit which] recently adopted the New York Declaration, States committed to providing additional and predictable humanitarian funding and development support for refugees,” said UNHCR Representative in Algeria Hamdi Bukhari.
“We badly need this for our humanitarian activities in support of the Sahrawis,” he continued. “Chronic underfunding has affected the provision of health, shelter, food and water.”
In June last year, the three agencies raised the alarm over the lack of funding for food. Today they are elevating their warning that “food assistance is critical.”
While the UN food relief agency was forced to suspend part of its assistance in October, November threatens reduced rations by half. Stocks have already been depleted to cover the last few months and the three staple products of wheat flour, vegetable oil, and rice are quickly running out. WFP has informed donors, stakeholders and local partners – including the Algerian and Sahrawi Red Crescent – of possible cuts.
“Cost-cutting measures, such as the replacement of some commodities by cheaper ones, have so far allowed WFP to extend resources to cover requirements,” said WFP Representative Romain Sirois.
“However,” he continued “if new funding is not available soon, WFP will be forced to reduce food rations. This is bound to hurt the nutritional status of refugees.”
On 19 September, WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian assistance to Sahrawi refugees, called on donors in Algiers for funds to provide food, shelter, health and education in the camps. The appeal will be re-issued soon at a donor meeting in Geneva.
“Sahrawi refugee children living in camps in Tindouf are highly dependent on food distributions, and anxiety among families about further reduction is high,” said UNICEF Representative in Algeria Marc Lucet.
“Children’s nutritional and health status could be at risk,” he continued. “Together with UN agencies working in the camps, we call upon donors to maintain their support to refugees so their basic humanitarian needs continue to be covered.”
Since 1986, WFP has been supporting refugees from Western Sahara in Algeria. All of its assistance there is carried out and monitored in collaboration with national and international organizations to make sure the support reaches the people for whom it is intended.
The Sahrawi crisis is the UN’s oldest protracted operation and the second longest-running refugee situation worldwide, said the agencies.
The Oslo Times International News Network