DOWA, MALAWI - Recent funding shortfalls have forced the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) to reduce rations and even suspend some food distribution at Malawi's Dzaleka Refugee Camp, home to 25,000 refugees from around the region. Officials say the food shortages are leading to sexual exploitation and violence.
It’s 8 o’clock in the morning at Dzaleka refugee camp in central Malawi.
Men and women wait to receive their monthly food ration from the U.N. World Food Program.
Their situation is precarious, but they say one thing is certain — the food will not last for a month.
The refugees used to receive seven different types of food items. Now it is down to three: maize, beans and cooking oil. And the U.N. had to cut the total amount of rations per person in half in the past year due to funding shortfalls.
The camp takes in refugees from around the region including Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia.
One Congolese refugee said the lack of food pushed her husband to leave the camp.
She said she is unable to do anything that can earn money. She relies on food donation for survival.
Malawian law prohibits refugees from engaging in business activities outside the camp.
Violence, exploitation due to lack of food
A recent survey by U.N. agencies found that lack of food is driving gender-based violence and exploitation at Dzaleka.
Camp administrator Owen Nyasulu said it is a problem. “At least we get three complaints a day mostly from women to say that ‘husbands have sold food,’ or husbands have beaten them because there is no food at home to cook… Because the food is not enough so they [women] resort to the same things, risky behavior as well whereby young girls end up sleeping with older men. In some instances some young girls have ended up being pregnant,” he stated.
Some have been raped, others have turned to prostitution for food or money to buy food.
A Burundian refugee said here at the camp she receives no money for buying clothes or soap and other day-to-day needs so she and others to bars and other drinking joints to look for money.
And it can turn violent, said a 19-year-old Rwandan refugee who asked that VOA not use her name.
She said there was a man who asked her to go his house where he would give her some food. But he ended up raping her, she said. "He even didn’t give me the food."
Additional funding needed
Members of the camp's peace committee said this girl’s stories are all too common but that most of the women don’t want to talk about their experiences publicly for fear of being laughed at or stigmatized.Full rations have resumed at Dzakela thanks to recent donations from the American and Japanese governments.
But the WFP warns that a fresh influx of Mozambican refugees into Malawi since December is once again straining resources. The refugees, many of them children, are fleeing alleged abuses by government forces in pro-opposition areas.
“While in the past we were mainly looking at food security needs of 25,000 people at Dzaleka, we now have to look in addition to that [at] the food needs of 11,000 new people coming from Mozambique,” said Coco Ushiyama, WFP Country Director.
The WFP warned that without additional funding, acute food shortages and ration cuts at the Dzaleka camp are likely to return by August.