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WFP to Cut Food Rations for Refugees in Zambia

The World Food Program warns it will have to cut food rations, yet again, for more than 86,000 refugees in Zambia because of lack of funds. To forestall this WFP says it urgently needs $4 million.

The refugees fled from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda and Burundi, in many cases, decades ago. They are living in six camps in Zambia. The World Food Program began cutting their food rations by 50 percent in October because appeals for money were not being met.

A WFP Spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, says rations will have to be cut again this month.

"The refugees are obviously very upset about it," she said. "It is creating a lot of tension in the camps and we will probably see a rise in malnutrition rates as well. It is a very worrisome situation."

WFP recently received promises of contributions from the United States, Germany and Holland. But, Ms. Berthiaume says it will take time for these promises to be converted to cash. In the meantime, she says the agency needs $4 million immediately to prevent large-scale hunger.

The WFP Spokeswoman says those people who suffer most from the food cuts are women heads of families, children, the elderly and chronically ill.

"And, many families have started to reduce the number of meals they take per day," she said. "I think that in this kind of situation, one cannot exclude violence or even little girls starting to prostitute themselves because they will need some money to eat."

The U.N. Refugee Agency says these cuts in food rations are also threatening its repatriation operation to Angola. A Spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says the agency is almost at the end of its second season of helping Angolan refugees return home after decades of exile.

"At this stage, when we are actually finally beginning to see an end to this protracted refugee situation and that they are going home, that this could be compromised by these food shortages," she said. "Already the returnees have been receiving only two months of rations instead of the usual four to six months of rations which makes their reinstallation so much harder"

Since the Angolan government and rebels signed a peace accord in 2002, more than 280,000 refugees have gone home. The U.N. Refugee Agency has assisted more than 170,000.