The World Food Program warns it will have to cut food rations by half for more than 80,000 Angolan and Congolese refugees in Zambia, because it has run out of cash. WFP says tens-of-thousands of Liberian refugees in Guinea also are threatened with reductions in their daily food allotments.

WFP spokesman Simon Pluess says 82,000 refugees in Zambia will have their food rations cut in half from January 1, unless the agency gets $8.5 million from donors. He says these refugees live in camps and settlements in remote areas of Zambia, and rely entirely on WFP for their food supplies.

He says WFP was forced to make similar reductions in food rations last year, with serious consequences.

"In the camps, the malnutrition rates and morbidity increased instantly. Our colleagues from UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees], they also noticed that sexually-transmitted diseases increased too, like AIDS as some refugees had to turn to prostitution in exchange for food, which is very unfortunate," said Mr. Pluess. "We also see that there was dropping out rates, increasing dropping out rates in schools, as parents do not send their kids to school anymore because they need them to work, to do dirty labor, and to get some money to buy food."

The 82,000 Angolan and Congolese refugees are the last of some 150,000 who fled to Zambia from civil wars over the past 20 years.

A similar tragedy is playing out in West Africa. The United Nations has appealed for nearly $147 million to support aid operations in 16 West African countries in the coming year. The response, so far, has been very poor.

WFP spokesman Pluess says lack of funds is forcing the agency to cut food rations on January first for 52,000 Liberian refugees in Guinea.

"The lack of funding has forced WFP to cut food rations for Liberians in Guinea several times since August 2004," he added. "The 1,835 kilo-calories they get now is just 87 percent of what they should eat to stay healthy. And, the new cuts down to 1,600 calories will be just 75 percent of what they should eat."

Mr. Pluess says the forecast for 2006 is far from encouraging. He says the general level of interest by the international community in this corner of the world is not very high.