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WFP receives ECHO donation for Western Saharan refugees

WFP RECEIVES ECHO DONATION FOR WESTERN SAHARAN REFUGEES

ALGIERS The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced the European Commission's donation of 3.75 million euros (US$4.73 million) to support its operation in Algeria which assists over 155,000 Western Saharan refugees.

"The contribution came just in time," said Mahaman Balla, WFP's Country Director to Algeria. "We were on the brink of having to stop the whole operation," he added.

The Western Saharan refugees arrived in Algeria in 1975 after fleeing a territorial conflict. They settled in four temporary camps near Tindouf, a remote town on the border with Western Sahara. They have had to endure harsh climatic conditions, which include extreme temperatures in summer and winter, isolation and chronic lack of economic opportunities.

WFP has been assisting the refugees since 1986. While negotiations are underway for peace and repatriation, until that takes place the Western Saharan refugees will remain in Algeria, continuing to rely almost totally on humanitarian assistance.

"They are desperate to go home and resume their lives but until there is a peace accord they have no choice but to remain here. A whole generation has been born in the tents with little hope of leaving until such an agreement is concluded," said Balla.

With the passage of time, the priorities of donors have changed. "They have been generous but there have been other emergencies that have eaten up funds in recent years and transformed our operation into a forgotten crisis. Unfortunately the refugees, particularly the women and children, are the ones who suffer," stressed Balla.

An estimated 40 percent of the population is under 14 years old and many are suffering from severe malnutrition. "With limited incomes, many households cannot afford to buy food", he said. Nutritional surveys, conducted by WFP in September 2002, showed high levels of anaemia and stunting.

In December, WFP started a supplementary feeding programme for 6,380 malnourished children and nursing mothers.

In an effort to highlight the plight of these people, WFP and UNHCR recently organized a mission to visit the camps for representatives from eight donor countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, the European Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) and the United States plus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Algeria. The mission, which took place from 20-23 January, concluded that the food situation of the refugees is critical and that the rate of malnutrition among the population was over 10 percent.

To date, WFP has received donations totaling US$17 million for its refugee operation which is 57 percent funded. These donations include: Algeria US$2.27 million; Austria: US$260,000; ECHO: US$4.5 million; Finland: US$215,000; Italy: US$640,000; Japan: US$600,000; and USA: US$2.88 million.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Mahaman Balla
country director/Algeria
Tel. + 00213-21692038
email: Mahaman.Balla@wfp.org

Mia Turner
regional public information officer/Cairo
Tel. +20-2-7545045
email: Mia.Turner@wfp.org