Refugee food cut exposes mothers, children to hunger

Refugees. A lactating refugee mother with her family at Rwamwanja settlement in Kamwenge District in 2014. PHOTO BY FELIX BASIIME

What you need to know:

  • Due to the ration cuts amid the Covid-19 pandemic, most refugees who earlier opted to stay outside the settlements, are now walking back.
  • Uganda recently suspended receiving new refugees to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The recent food ration cut to refugees by World Food Programme (WFP), coupled with the current restriction of movement in the country to curb the spread of Covid-19, has left refugee mothers and children in desperate need of food.
Refugees in Uganda heavily rely on food aid from the government and donor communities.

In an interview with the Daily Monitor, the refugees say the available food cannot sustain them for a month.
WFP this week announced a 30 per cent relief reduction to more 1.2 million refugees living in Uganda due to funding shortfall.

The WFP’s country director, Mr El-Khidir Daloum, told Daily Monitor on Wednesday that the agency is struggling with a shortfall of $137m in funding, which raisesfear on how the beneficiaries in and out of the 28 refugee settlements willcope.
“WFP is faced with a significant funding shortfall for its refugee’s response --- a shortfall of $137 million against total needs of $219 million in order to remain at a full ration through 2020. We are inconstant dialogue with donors on how best to support refugees given that humanitarian assistance plays a critical role in the success of Uganda’s refugee policy,” Mr Daloum said.

Asked where the ration cut leaves the refugees in Uganda, Mr Daloum said: “Tight, countrywide restrictions on movement imposed by the government to stem the spread of the Covid-19, will possibly reduce farming, working or business by refugees trying to fill the gap caused by the cuts. Refugees, therefore, may be at greater risk of malnutrition.

The Commissioner for Refugees in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Mr Gerald Menya, said: “Definitely the impact is great, especially to the lactating mothers. The second category includes children, the elderly and the physically handicapped...”
“We are so hungry, I have a family of six people, I have been getting 12kgs of posho, 12kgs of beans, about five litres of cooking oil, two bars of soap and 1 kg of salt, but now we have been told that I will be getting 8 kgs of posho and 8 kgs of beans. I don’t know what to do with my young children,” lamented a refugee mother from Mbarara.

She added that support money from WFP has been cut from Shs39,000 to Shs22,000.
The principal settlement officer in the OPM, Mr Charles Bafaki, however, said some refugees have been engaging in agriculture and will not be severely affected.
“The refugees in the western and south western Uganda where there is fertile land depend on agriculture as supplement to the food rations they get monthly from WFP, they also get cash,” Mr Bafaki said.

A refugee at Rwamwanja settlement, who preferred anonymity, said they have resorted to digging since it is planting season.
“Our biggest challenge is lack of seeds, although the area is very fertile and vast,” he said.
In Isingiro District, where hundreds of refugees are hosted at Nakivale and Orukinga, the Resident District Commissioner, Mr Herbert Muhangi, said refugees were prepared.

Due to the ration cuts amid the Covid-19 pandemic, most refugees who earlier opted to stay outside the settlements, are now walking back.
“Today (Wednesday), we intercepted a group of refugees who have been living in urban areas going to Nakivale settlement; this depicts the situation in urban areas. We have kept them in schools and alerted OPM officials to pick them up,” Mr Muhangi said.
In Obongi District, Mr David Wangwe, the settlement commandant in the OPM at Palorinya Refugee Settlement, said South Sudanese refugees have been forced to go back to their country to look for food.

“In Palorinya, around 165,000 refugees depend on monthly food rations from the WFP and support from the Ugandan government and international aid groups. An increase in basic resources could be a big first step,” he said.
In Arua District, Mr Peter Aringu, the chairperson of South Sudanese Refugees Association, said they anticipate severe hunger in the coming months since some refugees have nowhere to cultivate.
The refugees are living in the settlements of Omugo, Rhino Camp, Imvepi, Ocea in Arua, Bidibidi in Yumbe, Palorinya in Obongi and Nyumanzi in Adjumani District.
Uganda is the largest refugee hosting country in Africa with more than 1.2 million refugees mainly from South Sudan and DR Congo, with West Nile hosting more than 350,000 of them.

Others live in Kyangwali in Kikuube District, Kyaka II in Kyegegwa District, Rwamwanja in Kamwenge District and Nakivale and Orukinga in Isingiro District.
“Eighty per cent of new arrivals are women, children and other young people with few or no assets. The government provides them with land to aid resettlement, but refugees remain vulnerable for years due to many factors including poor access to land for sustainable production, over-reliance on subsistence farming and few or unsustainable alternative sources of income,” he said.

Refugee programme
World Food Programme (WFP) general monthly food basket includes cereals, beans, fortified vegetable oil and salt. However, in refugee settlements, where there are functional food markets, like all the ones in the southwest, WFP provides an option for refugees to receive cash equivalent to the value of the in-kind food basket, monthly.
WFP provides full rations of special fortified foods to children, pregnant women and nursing mothers diagnosed with acute malnutrition.

Uganda recently suspended receiving new refugees to slow the spread of coronavirus. However, according to Mr Gerald Menya, commissioner for refugees in Uganda, Uganda’s history of refugee hospitality stretches back to 1940, during World War II, when 80,000 Polish refugees came and settled in districts of Masaka and Masindi.
In Uganda, refugees are held in settlements, as opposed to encampments where refugees are more restricted. In the settlements, the refugees are able to mingle with their host community which he said has given them a human dignity.