African refugees on 'brink of hunger' as funding stalls, UN warns

African refugees on 'brink of hunger' as funding stalls, UN warns

The United Nations today warned that the fate of more than 1.2 million refugees in Africa was uncertain due to a lack of funding which has forced the UN's lead food programme to curtail much-needed food aid.

The warning, issued jointly by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), comes amid growing concerns that a potential conflict in Iraq may distract the attention of donor nations from the pressing needs of millions of refugees on the African continent.

"As new emergencies arise, the interest in these long-standing cases tends to fade, leaving refugees on the brink of hunger," said WFP Deputy Executive Director Jean-Jacques Graisse.

Some of the refugees are already receiving only half of their normal monthly food rations. WFP urgently needs 112,000 tons of food worth an estimated $84 million over the next six months to avert severe hunger among refugees.

UNHCR officials warned that shortages of food and other relief items will make it more difficult for the agency to protect refugees, particularly women and children, from all kinds of abuse and exploitation.

"Refugee children risk being sent out to work to supplement the family's reduced rations while women and girls may be forced to engage in exploitative relationships," warned UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner, Kamel Morjane.

Stocks of food commodities in many countries are expected to run out by the end of March unless new money comes in. Major interruptions in the food pipeline for one or more of the basic food commodities are feared in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Algeria and Sudan - Africa's main refugee-hosting nations.