Uganda refugees on brink of starvation due to coronavirus and aid cuts


Over 500,000 refugees in Uganda are experiencing food shortage as a result of severe cuts to food aid and COVID-19 restrictions, according to statistics published this week by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

More than 400,000 refugees are considered to be at crisis hunger levels and 135,130 children acutely malnourished and in urgent need of treatment.

In April, the World Food Programme (WFP) in Uganda announced a 30% reduction to food rations and cash transfers to more than 1.4 million refugees who have fled violence in neighbouring South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.

The IPC expects the situation to deteriorate further if additional cuts to aid are made.

“Unfortunately, this coincided with the start of the COVID-19 crisis in Uganda and the subsequent lockdown restrictions by the government of Uganda, which were also put in effect in refugee settlements,” said El-Khidir Daloum, WFP director for Uganda.

“Due to these movement restrictions, refugees were not able to work outside the settlements to add to the food assistance provided by WFP through earnings from agricultural work, or to take on other livelihood opportunities.”

The WFP has warned that it may have to make another 10% cut in aid this month.

BidiBidi, in northern Uganda, home to more than 232,000 people, is the most seriously affected.

Daloum said the WFP needed US$15.3m (£11.8m) to provide full rations to refugees living in settlements until the end of the year.

Activists have warned that the severe food shortages will push many of the refugees to the brink of starvation and will increase tensions within host communities.

In September, Uganda deployed security troops in the north-west region after clashes between local people and refugees at a water point led to the deaths of 10 people.

“This is a serious source of instability,” said Jude Ssebuliba, head of programmes at the Food Rights Alliance. “It’s very difficult to control a hungry person.”

He said shortages were “a big concern for all food actors. This crisis came as a result of the state depending so much on foreign aid to feed the refugees.”

Dismas Nkunda, executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, said any further reductions in food aid would be a “near death trap” for refugees.

“We need to mobilise funds for these vulnerable people to live normal [lives],” he said. The refugees had already suffered, they must not now become victims of the COVID-19, he added. “It’s double jeopardy for them.” (Source: The Guardian)