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UN Says More Than Two Million Refugees Threatened With Hunger

The World Food Program warns its operations caring for 2.2 million refugees worldwide are increasingly under-funded. WFP says most of the victims are in Africa.

The World Food Program says it is alarmed at the current funding crisis and warns millions of refugees will go hungry unless international donors urgently contribute $315 million. It says 75 percent of this money is needed to feed refugees in Africa.

WFP spokesman, Simon Pluess, says his agency already has been forced to cut food rations for tens of thousands of refugees in Africa because of the shortfall.

"This month we had to start cutting food rations in Sierra Leone, after having had to do so in Guinea and Liberia. For West Africa, for example, our refugee operations are only 40 percent funded," he said.

Within a few weeks, Mr. Pluess says the World Food Program will run out of food for the 60,000 Sudanese refugees and 3,000 newly arrived Congolese refugees in Uganda. He says nearly 1.5 million people will be affected by cuts in their food rations.

He says Tanzania is an example of what can happen to people when they do not get enough food. He says a nutritional survey of 400,000 refugees in Tanzania at the end of last year found that 37 percent of the children under five years of age were chronically malnourished. Another 23.4 percent were underweight.

Mr. Pluess says the survey was conducted only three months after the World Food Program was forced to cut the refugees' food rations by nearly one-quarter.

"And the pattern that we observe is always the same when you have to cut rations," he said. "It is health deterioration, inadequate nutrition and often an increase in domestic violence and crime. Since refugee populations are vulnerable, they do not have any coping strategies when such cuts intervene."

Mr. Pluess explains many of the refugees rely almost entirely on food aid for their survival. He says they are frequently confined to camps where little arable land is available and employment opportunities are scarce.

The World Food Program says the shortfall in funds also is threatening repatriation projects. For example, it says more than 30,000 Angolan refugees in Zambia want to return home. It says many of them might change their minds and choose to stay in the camps for fear of not getting the help and support they need to start a new life in their home country.