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Emergencies and new conflicts leave refugees hungry
October 16, 2014

Emergencies and new conflicts leave refugees hungry
Inside the Jesuit Refugee Service compound in Goz Beida, Chad, food supplies are being loaded into a truck for delivery to vulnerable refugees who are also beneficiaries of the JRS primary school program in Djabal Refugee Camp outside of town. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
"If we wait to act until famine is officially declared, it will be too late to save millions of lives," said Pau Vidal S.J, Director in of the JRS project in Maban, South Sudan.

(Rome) October 16, 2014 — While forcibly displaced persons make up only a tiny portion of those suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, the rise in conflict-induced displacement is putting serious strains on the capacity of the international community to meet the basic food needs of those fleeing conflict. Nothing better illustrates the hardship faced by refugees and internally displaced persons than the on-going conflicts in Syria and South Sudan, and the protracted refugee crisis in Chad.

"Food saves lives. It helps us be productive citizens, and is essential to the development of our children," said Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Peter Balleis S.J. highlighting World Food Day today. "That is why we urgently need more money from major donors and, where possible, to create more opportunities for the forcibly displaced to build sustainable livelihoods."

"We know that local NGOs and communities are often better placed to deliver aid to difficult-to-reach populations. Well then, let's work with them," he added.

More than two million people are facing severe food insecurity in South Sudan largely due to the outbreak of violence and ensuing displacement since in December 2013. In areas of high displacement, one in two children suffer from malnutrition. Conflict and instability is preventing people from planting seeds and harvesting crops. With a security budget of over $700 million, the government allocated 10 times more funds to security than to agriculture.

Community based initiatives and humanitarian efforts have so far proven effective in preventing several areas of the country from experiencing famine, but the prospects for 2015 are gloomy unless desperately needed funds are provided immediately and coordination mechanisms between aid agencies are dramatically improved. Humanitarian agencies should progress food aid by coordinating actors in the supply chain, particularly for food and seeds, and consulting communities about what would best serve their needs.

"If we wait to act until famine is officially declared, it will be too late to save millions of lives," said Pau Vidal S.J, Director in of the JRS project in Maban, South Sudan. 

Food security is the one of the most urgent priorities for those forcibly displaced by the Syrian conflict. Despite significant increases in the numbers of Syrians receiving food aid, almost half of those in need still did not receive assistance. Moreover, international aid agencies are often unable to deliver food in a timely manner.

Due to on-going conflict, local supply lines and markets remain unstable within Syria. Many donors are pushing to move to a voucher system as opposed to providing food baskets. While this may be helpful for refugees in countries like Jordan and Iraq where food is available, the instability within Syria renders this system unreliable.

"Local grassroots groups can often get food to extremely vulnerable people more quickly and efficiently than UN agencies and large NGOs. Security and local knowledge are key. These agencies should rely more on these smaller local networks to reach otherwise inaccessible populations," said JRS Middle East and North Africa Director Nawras Sammour S.J.

Recent global emergencies have diverted the attention and resources of the international community away from protracted refugee situations. Following budget cuts in early 2013 by the World Food Programme, some 360,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad saw their food rations cut by nearly 60 percent below the recommended calorie intake.

As part of a pilot program in Goz Amer camp, rations in October were increased for the most vulnerable cases. Unfortunately, the criteria determining vulnerability looks at the family as a whole, rather than taking into account the patriarchal nature of some Sudanese families. Consequently, many families feel forced to marry off girls as young as 13, and both girls and women are forced to engage in 'survival sex.'

"Cultural factors need to be considered when determining the food needs of refugees. Special attention should be paid to female refugees," said Isidore Ngueuleu, JRS West Africa Advocacy Officer.

JRS programs are found in 50 countries, providing assistance to: refugees in camps and cities, individuals displaced within their own countries, asylum seekers in cities, and to those held in detention centers. The main areas of work are in the field of education, emergency assistance, healthcare, livelihood activities and social services.

At the end of 2013, JRS employed approximately 1,400 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of nearly 950,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

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Mr Christian Fuchs