The World Food Programme (WFP) said Wednesday it has already reduced food rations and cash transfers by 30 percent for about 2.7 million refugees in eastern Africa due to insufficient funding from donors, Trend reports citing Xinhua.
WFP also warned that a serious hunger and malnutrition loom for the refugees who depend on its assistance to survive as the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic reduces vital funding from donors.
"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 issued in Nairobi.
WFP said the refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Djibouti have been affected by the reduced food rations and cash transfers, warning that it will be forced to cut deeper in the coming months unless urgent additional funding is received in time.
WFP said it requires 323 million U.S. dollars to assist refugees in the region over the next six months, a 22 percent higher compared to the same period in 2019.
The UN agency said refugees are also affected both by the wider socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as by the disease itself.
It said the most vulnerable women, children and elderly are increasingly at risk of becoming malnourished, which can in turn impact their immune systems and increase their risk of being infected by disease, a tragic vicious cycle during a global pandemic.
"With COVID yet to peak in east Africa, we cannot turn our backs on people forced to flee and stuck in remote camps. Many have already lost the few opportunities to earn money due to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 restrictions," said Dunford.
WFP said restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus closed schools in refugee camps, meaning children missed out on vital school meals in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda.
"In all these countries except Rwanda, funding shortages meant that WFP was unable to provide take-home rations to refugee children to help them study at home and stay nourished," it said.
WFP appealed both to traditional donors and new would-be donors, such as international financial institutions, to step forward and assist refugees.