As the number of refugees soars, the UN reports humanitarian food shortage

Millions of displaced families across eastern Africa will fall deeper into hunger as food rations dwindle due to humanitarian resources being stretched to the limit as the world grapples with a toxic cocktail of conflict, climate shocks, and COVID-19, combined with spiraling costs of food and fuel, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the UN World Food Program (WFP) warned this week.

WFP administrators say the agency needs $226.5 million to provide food for refugees across Eastern Africa through September 2022.

In the image above, UNHCR photographer Adelina Gomez Monteagudo captured a young girl at a temporary site for refugees from Sudan and South Sudan in Tsore, Ethiopia, which is among several East African countries suffering from a shortage in humanitarian food rations.

Despite efforts to make resources stretch through prioritization schemes, meaning food assistance is prioritized for the most vulnerable families, the sheer number of refugees in need of support has grown, along with the gap between resourcing and needs.

In the past decade, the number of refugees in eastern Africa has nearly tripled, going from 1.82 million in 2012 to almost 5 million today including 300,000 new refugees last year alone.

The growth in refugee numbers has not been matched by a growth in resources, forcing WFP to make difficult decisions about who receives food assistance and who goes without.

Today, over 70 percent of refugees in need of assistance do not receive a full ration due to funding shortfalls.

“Refugees and internally displaced people are at the centre of the food ration cuts, compounding a desperate situation for millions of people uprooted from their homes and often relying on aid to survive,” said Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s Regional Bureau Director for the East, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes. “More and more children below the age of five years are experiencing high levels of stunting and wasting, as they lack the nutrients to grow and develop.”

“Families do not know where their next meal will come from and are taking on huge debt, selling off what they can, or sending their children to work,” added Nkweta-Salami. “The risk of domestic violence is rising. Getting people out of harm’s way and shielding them from serious protection risks also requires that their food needs are adequately addressed.”

A sharp increase in food and fuel costs and conflict-caused displacement are being compounded by a worsening climate crisis. Globally, floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense, severely impacting countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, and worsening food insecurity.

“The unfortunate reality is that eastern Africa is confronted with a year of unprecedented humanitarian needs, driven by severe climate shocks, ongoing conflict and instability, and surging food and fuel prices,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa.

“The growth in needs here mirrors what we see happening around the globe and we implore the world not to turn its back on this region and, in particular, the extremely vulnerable communities of refugees who have limited access to livelihoods and rely on WFP to survive.”

There is likely to be little relief through 2022 as the conflict in Ukraine will cause a wave of collateral hunger by further exacerbating existing problems such as record-high food prices.

Refugees are one of the most vulnerable populations and will be among the first to feel the effects of rising costs, which come as communities are still reeling from two years of socioeconomic fallouts due to COVID-19.

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