More than 2.7 million refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Djibouti have had their food rations and cash transfers cut by up to 30% by the World Food Programme (WFP) because of severe disruptions and funding gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a WFP press release.
Unless emergency financing is received, these cuts could become deeper in the months ahead. The WFP is already being forced to spread rapidly dwindling resources amid the global economic depression triggered by COVID-19. Refugees in East Africa and around the world are highly vulnerable to the consequences of this multifaceted crisis.
“Refugees are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 because they are crowded together in camps with weak or inadequate shelter, health services and access to clean water and sanitation,” Michael Dunford, WFP Eastern Africa regional director, said in a statement.
“With COVID yet to peak in East Africa, we cannot turn our backs on people forced to flee and stuck in remote camps,” added Mr. Dunford.
The WFP is calling on donors to pledge an additional $323 million to assist refugees in East Africa over the next six months, an increase of 22% over the same period last year. Because of the financial pressure facing countries, the organization is expanding its fundraising tactics to target nontraditional donors that can help meet the demand.
Earlier in the year, the WFP launched its largest aid response in its history to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of the year, the agency reports that an additional 270 million people in 83 countries will need food aid, an increase of 82% from 2019.
Globally, more than 2 billion people required food aid in 2019.
The latest call to action aims to prevent the situation throughout the region from further deterioration. Refugees already experience food, housing, and water shortages. Infectious diseases have a higher chance of spreading in refugee camps because of a lack of sanitation and health care facilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused school closures that refugee children depended on for nutritious lunch meals.
Refugees lucky enough to find work in surrounding areas have largely lost sources of income used to buy food because of restrictions on movement meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
As families struggle to stay nourished with fewer rations, rates of malnutrition will likely increase, according to the WFP.
Malnutrition weakens the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to a range of illnesses, including COVID-19. The potential for a vicious cycle of hunger and disease on a massive scale demands urgent intervention, the WFP reports.
“Sadly, it is the poorest and most disadvantaged who suffer the most,” said Dunford. “But we simply cannot let this happen. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for the world to turn its back on refugees at this terrible time.”