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WFP warns of food shortage affecting 50,000 refugees


NAIROBI, 24 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - The UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday that it would have to cut rations for 50,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees in Rwanda unless donors provided US $2.6 million.

If made, the rations would be cut by 30 percent early in March, the agency said in a statement issued in Kigali, capital of Rwanda.

"Without new contributions from the international community, we will no longer be able to provide a complete food ration, putting the health and morale of these refugees in danger," the agency said.

The WFP acting country director in Rwanda, Alix Loriston, was quoted as saying that the agency was already providing food aid to 50,000 refugees, 15,000 more than originally targeted. The agency said it had "responded quickly" to the increasing number of refugees from Burundi and the DRC arriving in Rwanda over the last year "because of unrest, violence and banditry".

Refugees from these two countries are living in six refugee and transit centres, where most depend on WFP food, the agency said. The government, it said, did not allow the refugees to seek employment outside and the closed, secluded nature of the camps "severely inhibits" any farming or money-generating activities.

"Until the political situation improves in the region and the flow of the refugees reverses, they will continue to depend almost entirely on WFP food assistance," Loriston said.

In January, WFP said, it had to cut the distribution of cereals out of the monthly food rations. This, it added, was already "having deep consequences" because the number of malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women attending supplementary and therapeutic feeding centres had increased.

It said an interagency harvest survey recently showed that poor rains negatively affected this year's harvests in the country. Based on this, the agency expects an increase of people in need.

"We cannot make the food go any further," Loriston said. "Additional support to both refugees and vulnerable Rwandans is essential if we are to succeed at keeping malnutrition at bay."

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