Western Sahara refugees face looming food shortages UN agencies report

Some 155,000 Western Saharan refugees almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid provided through the UN World Food Programme (WFP) are living in the four remote camps, and fresh contributions are urgently needed for their survival, according to WFP and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).Without a new infusion of funds, by October the refugees will get only 11 per cent of their daily food aid requirements – about 231 kilocalories for each person – compared to the standard UN ration of flour, lentils, beans, vegetable oil and other items totalling 2,100 kilocalories daily.In order to meet the refugees’ nutritional needs through this year, WFP needs 8,336 metric tons of food valued at $3.7 million.But securing the funds could be problematic, UN officials said, because the condition of the refugees is not well-known. “With the lack of international attention to their plight, obtaining regular contributions of food aid for the Western Saharan refugees is extremely difficult,” said the WFP’s Daly Belgasmi. He warned that without new contributions, “the drastic reduction in October’s food package will have severe consequences on the health of the refugees, particularly for children under five, pregnant women and lactating mothers.”UNHCR’s budget to care for the Western Saharan refugees in Algeria is also experiencing a cash crunch, with only $1.5 million pledged so far out of the $4.6 million required. While the agency can pool funds to cover part of the gap, its overall annual budget also faces a shortfall.Officials with the refugee agency say the plight of those in Western Sahara is severe. “Thirty-five per cent of the children suffer chronic malnutrition, and 13 per cent of the children are acutely malnourished, leading to a high level of stunting among young children,” said UNHCR’s Radhouane Nouicer, who oversees operations in North Africa and the Middle East.In September, UNHCR and WFP will conduct a comprehensive nutritional survey of Algeria’s refugee population, many of whom first fled Western Sahara in 1975.

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