U.N. to cut food rations for South Sudanese refugees

Scenes from Civilian Protection Site in Juba During Search for Restricted Items (Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

Food rations for some South Sudanese refugees living in Uganda will be cut this July, said the World Food Programme. The announcement comes as a part of the U.N. agency’s latest situation report on the South Sudan crisis. It says $43 million is needed for the next six months to support the 539,000 refugees living in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

If the situation does not change, it will be the second cut in food rations for refugees in Uganda. WFP announced cuts at the end of January for 150,000 refugees due to a shortfall of $30 million. Support normalized a month later thanks to contributions by the United States and Australia. But the money is only enough to cover through July.

“Reducing rations is a last resort to ensure we can continue providing life-saving support for the most vulnerable refugees,” said WFP Country Director Alice Martin-Daihirou, in January. “We urgently need more funding to restore full assistance to people in Uganda who have no means to feed themselves.”

Money for South Sudanese refugees living in all four neighboring countries is short of what is needed for the next six months. The $18 million shortfall in Uganda is the largest of all. More than 147,000 refugees left South Sudan in the past 18 months. WFP says the pace of arrivals increased recently due to violence in Unity State.

The rise in fighting in Unity State forced thousands to flee for safety and is even affecting U.N. agencies and aid groups trying to work in the region. Staff for the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Red Cross were temporarily evacuated due to “increasingly aggressive” behavior aimed at relief workers, said the U.N. Groups are concerned that attacks on humanitarian facilities could happen, like what was experienced when an MSF hospital in Leer was attacked in January 2014.

“We must sound the alarm on the grim situation in southern Unity state,” said Pete Buth, deputy operations director for MSF, in a news release. “We cannot stand by and watch as civilians and medical facilities are attacked again. All warring parties must take immediate steps to ensure that civilians, as well as humanitarian staff and their facilities and vehicles, are not targeted in the fighting.”

With continued fighting and an estimated 1,000 people leaving South Sudan every week, the humanitarian community is struggling to keep up with the crisis. Not enough funding plagues the overall response, forcing the United Nations to issue dire warnings and announce cuts in services. It costs $7.6 million per month for WFP’s South Sudanese refugee support in just Uganda, home to roughly one-quarter of all the country’s refugees.

And more are coming. The U.N. estimates more than 200,000 refugees will leave South Sudan between now and the end of the year. If the past holds true, it is likely the ration cuts will come in July with a fresh announcement. International donor countries will step up shortly after to provide enough money for a few more months and the cycle will repeat.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.