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WFP struggling to feed 90,000 refugees in Sudan's east

Nairobi WFP has said it is struggling to feed 90,000 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees in eastern Sudan. More than halfway through its term, the two-year WFP operation to feed the refugees has a 47 percent funding shortfall and breaks in supplies are looming.

“Food distributions to the refugees are in real danger of being scaled down or even interrupted because of the lack of funds, and because we are battling to feed more refugees than were expected to remain in Sudan at this time,” said WFP Sudan Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva.


“We appeal to the international community to remember the plight of these people who are dependent on food aid, cannot yet return home and currently have little chance of integrating into the local community. The least we can do is provide them with food.”

The refugees are in 12 camps in Kassala, Gezira, Sinnar and Gedaref states in East and Southeast Sudan.


The refugees face competition for wage labour from local residents and internally displaced people. Although some refugees have access to land for farming, the majority don’t. Few have any chance of employment; the large proportion of families headed by women are particularly vulnerable because social and cultural factors limit their access to food and sources of income.

Food assistance is vital, but well over halfway through its two-year term, the WFP operation to feed the Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees in the East and Southeast has US$9.4 million of the US$17.7 million that it requires until March 2006, a funding shortfall of 47 percent.


Concerns about general conditions in their homeland meant that far fewer refugees came forward than were expected for voluntary repatriation assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Sudan Government’s Commissioner for Refugees (COR). So WFP is feeding almost 50 percent more refugees than expected.

Contributions to WFP so far came from the United States (US$3.1 million), multilateral funds (US$2.6 million), the Netherlands, (US$1.7 million), Japan (US$660,000), private donors (US$180,000) and Switzerland (US$84,000). Commodity carryovers bring the total to US$9.4 million.


The influx of refugees into Sudan’s east began in the 1970s and 1980s, when civil war, drought and famine in Ethiopia led thousands to flee, followed by the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of 1997-98. Most people took refuge in areas along the border with Sudan; even now, small numbers continue to arrive.

In July, WFP’s partner, the Sudan Government’s COR, distributed 1,880 metric tons of food to 89,498 people. Another 16 tons from WFP was distributed through supplementary feeding centres run by partner Non-Governmental Organisations and reached 3,908 people. Other activities to help the refugees include food for training and environmental rehabilitation work, supported by food aid.


But chronic funding shortages, insecurity in the region at times curtailing access as well as problems in contracting enough trucks to carry food aid from Port Sudan to the camps have hampered WFP’s efforts to maintain consistent supplies of food assistance to the refugees.

Nutrition surveys and reports from NGOs running selective feeding programmes in the camps show malnutrition rates reaching worrying levels. In April, nutrition survey by WFP, UNHCR and COR recorded global acute malnutrition rates among children under five of 12.7 percent in Um Gargour camp.


“We need the world’s support to keep feeding,” Lopes da Silva said. “We know that without food aid these people won’t be able to feed their families. Their situation is precarious. Malnutrition rates among children are always the first to climb because they are the most vulnerable.”

“We need the food to feed these families, which have no one else to help them, and nowhere else to go at the moment,” he added.