Report: Massive, exploding refugee numbers overwhelming UN food program

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A lack of funding and an increase of refugees has caused a crisis situation for the U.N. World Food Program. According to a report in the Washington Post this week, the daily calorie intake for the 650,000 refugees the program feeds in Ethiopian camps is being cut by 20 percent, leaving them with an average allowance of just 1,680 calories a day. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, men need on average about 2,500 calories a day, women need about 2,000.

If new funds do not come by March, the refugees will see a further drop in their calorie allotment, which could go down to about 1,000 calories a day. At the same time, nearly 10,000 new refugees, mostly from war-torn South Sudan, are arriving every day. And everyone is hungry.

As the world’s biggest food provider, Ethi­o­pia is just one of several countries affected by the WFP crisis.

In 2017, the U.S. contributed an unprecedented $2.4 billion of funding to the WFP. This was an increase from 2016, when Americans donated $2 billion to stop world hunger, according to Peter Smerdon, the WFP spokesman for East Africa.

“It’s the huge demands that have outstripped donors’ ability to keep increasing funding,” Smerdon said, pointing to food crises in South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, as well as a string of protracted conflicts and refugee crises in places such as Syria and Ethiopia.

According to the report, Americans have been doing their best to help, but the need continues to outstrip the ability of other countries to contribute enough funding.

In 2016, the WFP needed $8.84 billion and received $5.92 billion, including the United States’ $2 billion. A year later, the need rose to $9.6 billion, but funding was just $5.96 billion — a slight uptick but a bigger shortfall. There is no reason to expect 2018 needs to shrink as conflicts continue unabated.

“The donors are giving more, but I am concerned and worried that this cannot continue,” Smerdon said. “It’s only development that’s going to fix the problem. We are just the Band-Aid.”

In Syria, where a six-year-old civil war is slowly winding down amid massive devastation and displacement, the WFP has been able to feed fewer people every month, dropping from 4 million in November, to 3.3 million in December and an expected 2.8 million next month.

In Yemen, where a civil war and a foreign blockade make it hard just getting food into the country, half of the 7 million people fed by the WFP are on 60 percent rations (1,260 calories a day). Similarly in Somalia, where 3 million people receive assistance, the WFP has had to suspend rations for many and reduce them for others.

In Kenya’s sprawling Dadaab refu­gee camp, the ration cuts have put many of the more than 200,000 Somali residents into debt and forced them to go back to precarious lives in conflict-ridden Somalia in return for money to pay off their loans.

So far in Ethiopia, in contrast, there has been no pressure from the government to repatriate Somalis, and what little most refugees hear about what’s going on there — including a truck bomb in Mogadishu in October that killed more than 500 people — keeps them from wanting to return.

“When you have the same pot of money to support a growing number it just means everyone is going to get less,” said Leighla Bowers, the WFP’s Ethi­o­pia spokeswoman. “The fact of the matter is refugees just keep coming in.”

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