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Hunger Pangs For South Sudanese Refugees In Uganda

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World Food Programme is forced to cut food rations for refugees

The Ugandan government and the World Food Programme (WFP) have been forced to cut food rations for refugees.

Uganda hosts the most refugees in Africa with 1.2 million, 900,000 of whom are from South Sudan. The huge influx has seen food rations cut down by 50 percent except for refugees who came before July 2015.

El Khidir Daloum, the WFP representative in Uganda, says the cut was the result of a lack of food arriving in the country.

“Yes, we have been forced to reduce the distribution. When we have a shortage in funding and physical availability of food, then we might be forced to take certain measures,” says Daloum.

As Uganda next week hosts the Solidarity Refugee Summit in Kampala, Daloum says $19 million are needed to pay for 16,000 tons of food assistance to the refugees in the settlement. The summit jointly organized by the UN Refugee Agency, the United Nations and the government of Uganda is expected to raise $8 billion to support refugees for the next four years.

“When you look at the volumes of tons we need every month and when you look at the pipeline, then definitely we have a challenge facing us and from now and the coming six months we have a shortfall of $64 million.”

In a statement Wednesday, the World Refugee Council said Uganda’s refugee policy is being put to the test as the country struggles to feed thousands of South Sudanese refugees.


40,000 every month

For the past year, an average of 40,000 South Sudanese refugees have entered Uganda every month, 86 percent of whom are women and children.

At the Maaji and Pagirinya settlements in the northern Adjumani district, Grace Deng, 25-year-old mother of three -- also eight months pregnant -- has not been spared the hunger pangs.

She is on the verge of crying as her two-year-old son, naked, follows her around wailing.

“I am pregnant and can’t run around to look for food; as you can see, my son is crying because of hunger, I don’t have any money to buy food,” she says.

Even though nutritional food is provided to pregnant mothers at health centers, Deng says: “The last time I went for my antenatal visit, there were too many mothers and I missed the food.”

Musa Ecweru Uganda’s state minister for refugees, says the reduction in food rations has had implications such as malnutrition.

“We have to agree to reduce rations so we can keep our people fed with what is basic as we continue to dangle our basket to people of good will so that the moment we get enough, then we can go back to our normal rations,” Ecweru says.


Cash for food

Ecweru attributes the lack of food on the drought experienced last year.

“In the absence of a good harvest, instead of supplementing, we have to feed them [South Sudanese] 100 percent,” Ecweru adds.

In Adjumani district alone, over 46,000 refugees have enrolled for the cash-for-food distribution as an alternative to receiving food. WFP provides money for food to 16 percent of refugees in the country.

The majority falls under the "extremely vulnerable" individual category and each receives from $3 to $12 per person, per month.

Taban Wilson, 51, disabled, receives $12 per month to feed his family of nine.

“With cash we have a balanced diet, but because of the long drought, there is no food in the markets. Yet the little that is available is too costly, this money isn’t enough.”

"Uganda has traditionally taken a progressive approach to hosting refugees, offering them freedom of movement and immediate access to its labor market, as well as developing innovative approaches to supporting refugee self-reliance," says the World Refugee Council, which is calling on "other nations to share the responsibility for protecting refugees, assisting host communities and providing robust support during the Solidarity Summit on Refugees".

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