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Refugee influx, budget shortfall compound food crisis in Sahel Lisa

Friedman, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is facing a $122.4 million shortfall as it works to provide emergency food, water, shelter and protection to hundreds of thousands of Malians still fleeing the country.

Throughout June, an average of 460 people each day crossed the northern border of Mali into either Burkina Faso, Mauritania or Niger, a UNHCR spokeswoman said yesterday.

The refugee crises has compounded an existing food shortage in the Sahel, and a  report issued yesterday by Refugees International warns that the budget shortfall is putting thousands of families in already dire conditions at further risk. At least one camp in the blazing Niger sun doesn't have enough tents. Malnourished children are not getting enough food. Potable water is scarce.

"It's very clear that everybody's going to have to put in more money just to meet basic needs," said Alice Thomas, climate displacement program manager for Refugees International. She called the Malian refugee situation a "neglected crisis."

Mali had been a largely stable country until fighting broke out in January after the outbreak of an armed rebellion. The Tuareg separatist movement, aided by Islamic militant groups with links to al-Qaida, in April took control of the northern part of the country, forcing thousands to flee. According to UNHCR, more
than 180,000 people have crossed into neighboring countries -- often with livestock -- while an additional 150,000 Malians remain displaced internally.

The crisis also has put an enormous strain on host countries, which face food and water shortages of their own, the report notes. Aid also is required for local villages, in part to retain their goodwill as hosts in the face of the Malian exodus. But so far, UNHCR spokeswoman Charity Tooze said, just 20 percent of the agency's $153 million funding appeal has been met.

Plastic sheets and sticks

"U.N. agencies and partner organizations are prioritizing the delivery of life-saving services, such as food, water, health and shelter. But even those basic services are stretched thin," the report says. The Mangaize refugee camp in Niger, the authors noted, has only 50 tents to serve several thousand people. Most live under plastic sheets held up with sticks.

Aid agencies have been trucking water into many of the camps and are trying to drill wells for refugees and their animals before the rainy season sets in, the report says. According to UNHCR, feeding refugee livestock -- the lone livelihood of many Malians -- has alone cost $1.2 million. Schools for the young Malians who make up 77 percent of the refugees are not possible.

"The amount of water we're able to give the refugees is less than it should be in a humanitarian crisis because the budget is so undermet," Tooze said. "Right now, UNHCR is only able to do lifesaving support. Things like educational facilities and other types of programming for refugees, we can't even do that at this point."

Meanwhile, officials said, efforts have been at a standstill to bolster the needs of local communities that have faced three food crises in seven years and suffer from poor rainfall and low crop yields.

Tooze called the Sahel food crisis intertwined with thousands of refugees "just one match away from being an emergency inside an emergency." And, she said, "unfortunately, it doesn't look to be getting better."

In addition to urging the United States and European Union to provide immediate additional funding for the crisis, the report calls on the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to assign dedicated staff to the region to oversee the crisis. It also urges major donors to develop a comprehensive assistance strategy for the Sahel that "links the emergency response to longer-term assistance to address the threats that food insecurity and climate change present to the region."

Click here to read the report.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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