UN warns many of most vulnerable refugees on brink of malnutrition, as region hit by wider hunger crisis
BARCELONA, Jan 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Food supplies for thousands of African refugees at a camp in central Malawi are running out fast, U.N. agencies warned on Tuesday, appealing for urgent funds to provide full rations for the coming year.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said a lack of money had forced it to reduce food aid at Dzaleka camp in the last six months. Refugees are receiving only three of five planned foods - pulses, vegetable oil and maize - at half the amount they should get.
The camp's more than 23,500 refugees, mostly from the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions, have access to only 40 percent of the daily recommended minimum of calories.
Without more funding, maize stocks are set to run out in mid-February, while vegetable oil, pulses and a nutrition-enhanced corn soya flour will likely be depleted by May, said the WFP and U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in an appeal for an additional $2 million.
"The situation is becoming dire," Monique Ekoko, UNHCR's representative for Malawi, said in a statement.
"Many of the most vulnerable, including children, the chronically ill, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and the elderly are at the brink of malnutrition."
When rations are cut, the camp environment becomes less safe for women and girls, the agencies said. A survey found that lack of food was a key driver of sexual and gender-based violence among the refugees, they added.
Malawi's Commissioner for Refugees, Bestone Chisamile, said the country would meet its international obligations to refugees, but needed support from WFP and UNHCR to do so.
"That is why we're appealing to the international community to provide the necessary funding so that refugee families in Malawi do not go to bed hungry," said Chisamile.
REGIONAL HUNGER THREAT
On Monday, WFP said Malawi was the southern African country hit hardest by last year's poor rains. As crops have failed, 2.8 million people there need food aid out of an estimated 14 million facing hunger in the region.
The price of maize - the staple for most of the region - is 73 percent higher in Malawi than the three-year average for this time of year, due to drought on the heels of floods, WFP noted.
Prolonged dry spells in southern Africa, made worse this season by the El Nino phenomenon bringing extreme weather around the world, mean the window for planting cereals is closing fast or has already shut in some countries, the agency said.
"I'm particularly concerned that smallholders won't be able to harvest enough crops to feed their own families through the year, let alone to sell what little they can in order to cover school fees and other household needs," said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin who has just visited drought-prone southern Zambia.
WFP said it wanted to expand food and cash-based assistance in the worst-affected southern African countries until the April harvest.
But it is struggling to raise enough money for those programmes as worsening crises around the world - from the Syria conflict to hunger in Ethiopia - compete for donor dollars.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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