The situation is serious, the influx of South Sudanese has not stopped, there are a number coming in through Elegu, through Oraba, through informal border points in Arua district and the resourcing issues is serious, says WFP Communication Manager Lydia Wamala.
A South Sudanese refugee carrying food from the distribution centre, in Ayilo I settlement camp.
The World Food Programme (WFP) could soon implement deeper cuts in food assistance to the refugees in Uganda because of severe food shortage.
In August, the government, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and WFP halved the food rations due to growing number of South Sudan refugees amidst dwindling funding.
“The situation is serious, the influx of South Sudanese has not stopped, there are a number coming in through Elegu, through Oraba, through informal border points in Arua district and the resourcing issues is serious," says WFP Communication Manger Lydia Wamala.
Already, even before the current influx of South Sudanese, the World Food Programme faced a funding shortfall and was planning to reduce on food rations for refugees staying in Uganda. “But this new inflow of people has exacerbated the problem,” says Wamala.
About 200,000 refugees have been affected by the reduction in the volume of food distributed. The WFP, funded entirely by contribution from governments, organisations, companies and private individuals, says it immediately requires 20 million US Dollars (about Shillings 67 billion) to run for the next five months.
“We are heavily engaged with donors and we have received some contribution from US, UK, Irish Aid, Japan, and the European Commission and even in spite of those generous contributions, the WFP urgently needs funding,” says Wamala.
Uganda currently hosts 620,000 refugees; about half of them, South Sudanese who have fled the recent violence in their country.
Renewed fighting in July, between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar left close to 300 people dead and thousands displaced.
According to humanitarian organisations, more than 70,000 people have crossed the border into Uganda, which places more burden on the already under-funded humanitarian response on the ground.
A team of humanitarian agencies and the government are supplying high energy biscuits at the border points, cooked meals at the Nyumanzi and Bidi bidi reception centre as well as providing dry rations to the refugees settled by the government in various camps.
However, in a bid to address the shortfall, WFP and government are giving refugees money to buy food from the local market. Those who have lived in the settlement for over five years are being taken off the list of food beneficiaries.
“At the moment, we are reaching 60,000 refugees with cash and we expect that at the end of the year, we will have reached about 140,000 refugees,” said Wamala.
Vincent Amaruma, the Assistant Settlement Commander under Office of the Prime Minister, said cash has many advantages, as it allows the refugees to buy the food they want. It also allows them to manage resources in their homes and some dignity to buy fresh food.
According to Amaruma, cash distribution is carried out monthly. Extremely vulnerable households receive Shillings 36,000 per member, per month and an average family gets Shillings 28,000 per member per month. This, he says, is equivalent to the food rations the refugees are receiving.
The impact of food cuts has seen vulnerable groups, like children admitted to hospital due to hunger. “We get 3kgs of beans for a month, what is that?” asked Guelac Yar, a refugee in Ayilo I settlement, whose children are hospitalised. “The children are weak and they are in hospital because we don't have food.”
WFP received 5.38 billion US Dollars in contribution in 2014. This was in response to unprecedented number of emergencies such as Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and West African countries affected by Ebola.