The World Food Program says a lack of funds is forcing it to cut food rations to some 230,000 Somali and Sudanese refugees living in two camps in remote areas in northeast Kenya. WFP says, to restore the food aid, it urgently needs $5 million by the end of July and an additional $14 million by the end of the year.
The cash-strapped U.N. agency says the 20 percent reduction in food rations for the refugees is brutal but necessary. It says these cuts will allow the World Food Program to stretch the limited supply of stocks it has on hand over the next few months.
WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the malnutrition rates are bound to increase because of the food cutoff. She says she fears violence will break out in the camps and people will resort to extreme measures to get food.
"Women resorting to prostitution in order to find some food," she said. "You will see [an] increase of that, but also, most probably an increase in insecurity because the refugee camps have no other means to answer their needs, at least on the food side. It comes from us. If we cannot give them the food, they will try to find it locally. They will get out of the camps. They will go somewhere to try to find the food and there is none. In this part of Kenya, there is a severe drought. There is no food."
An estimated 3.5 million Kenyans are affected by severe drought in the northeastern part of the country. The 20 percent food ration cuts for the refugees come as WFP struggles to raise $170 million for its humanitarian operation to feed the starving Kenyan population. Berthiaume says this appeal is 75 percent short of its mark.
The WFP spokeswoman says the refugees are confined to the Dadaab and Kakuma camps and are not allowed to work. She says the isolated and harsh environment around the camps means there is little they can do to provide for themselves. She says the refugees suffer from chronic poverty and malnutrition.
"We recently did a nutritional survey with UNHCR in the camps," she added. " And we found also that poor hygiene care practices, extreme environmental conditions -- this is a very difficult area of Kenya -- limited health infrastructure and disease were also playing a big role in the malnutrition rate."
Furthermore, Berthiaume notes refugees sometimes will sell or exchange a limited amount of the food rations they receive to obtain essential items like soap, firewood and other basic goods. This too, she says, adds to growing malnutrition.