December 23, 2005

UN warns of food aid cuts to refugees / Government extends maize importation

The United Nations has warned that it would have to slash rations for 82.000 refugees living in Zambia unless the outside world came up with US $8.5 million to keep them supplied with food. In a statement issued in Geneva, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the refugee agency UNHCR said that without more support the cuts would begin in the New Year and were bound to increase malnutrition among the refugees. "We simply have no choice. Although we have a stable pipeline for refugees through December, we have received no contributions for 2006," said WFP country director for Zambia David Stephenson.

The refugees, mainly living in remote areas of Zambia, are the last of some 150.000 who fled into the country over the past 20 years from civil wars and conflict in neighbouring Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Stevenson said the food situation for their communities was now extremely serious because they relied entirely on the Rome-based WFP for their food supplies. The agency said that a previous experience in 2004 when a shortfall in funding led to a three-month ration cut showed that such action would lead to a higher death rate among the refugees and serious social problems. Reduced rations, it said, had then led to an upsurge in sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS as women and girls among the refugees turned to prostitution in return for food, while children stopped going to school.

In the meantime, the Zambian government has extended its commercial maize import programme by three months in a bid to ensure adequate tonnages to feed 1.7 million food insecure people. Harrison Banda, executive director of the Millers Association of Zambia, welcomed the extension of the import programme, originally scheduled to end on 31 December, because it would allow millers enough time to bring in much needed stocks. (Rts)

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