UN Agencies In Algeria Appeal For Continued Food Assistance To Western Saharan Refugees

ALGIERS - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children's fund (UNICEF) is appealing for continued donor support for refugees from Western Sahara living in Algeria. The three agencies say that insufficient funding makes a cut in basic food rations imminent.

For more than 40 years, the Sahrawi refugees have been living under extremely harsh conditions in the Sahara desert in south-western Algeria. Hosted in five camps close to the town of Tindouf, they remain heavily dependent on external humanitarian assistance. WFP represents the most important source of food in the camps; any reduction or halt of WFP food assistance will have a severe impact on the food security and nutritional status of the refugees, especially young children, pregnant and nursing women, the elderly and the sick.

"At the recently adopted New York Declaration this month, states committed to providing additional and predictable humanitarian funding and development support for refugees," said UNHCR Representative in Algeria Hamdi Bukhari. "We badly need this for our humanitarian activities in support of the Sahrawis. Chronic underfunding has affected the provision of health, shelter, food and water. In June last year, our three agencies warned about the lack of funding for food, and we are doing so again as food assistance is critical."

WFP faces a funding shortfall of US$10 million for the next six months. In October, WFP was forced to suspend part of its food assistance; from November, rations are likely to be reduced by half. Stocks have already been depleted to cover the last few months, and at least three staple products - wheat flour, vegetable oil, and rice - are running out. WFP has informed donors, stakeholders and local partners, including the Algerian and Sahrawi Red Crescent, of possible cuts.

"Cost-cutting measures, such as the replacement of some commodities by cheaper ones, have so far allowed WFP to extend resources to cover requirements. However, if new funding is not available soon, WFP will be forced to reduce food rations. This is bound to hurt the nutritional status of refugees," said WFP Representative Romain Sirois.

Last month, WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as NGOs providing humanitarian assistance to Sahrawi refugees, appealed for funds to provide food, shelter, health and education in the camps. The appeal was issued to donors in Algiers on 19 September, and will be re-issued soon at a donor meeting in Geneva.

"Sahrawi refugee children living in camps in Tindouf are highly dependent on food distributions, and anxiety among families about further reduction is high. Children's nutritional and health status could be at risk," said UNICEF Representative in Algeria Marc Lucet. "Together with UN agencies working in the camps, we call upon donors to maintain their support to refugees so their basic humanitarian needs continue to be covered".

WFP has been supporting refugees from Western Sahara in Algeria since 1986. All WFP assistance in Algeria is carried out and monitored in collaboration with national and international organizations to make sure the assistance reaches the people for whom it is intended.

The Sahrawi crisis is the UN's oldest protracted operation and the second longest-running refugee situation worldwide.

Source: World Food Programme