Western Sahara: UN agencies assess ‘dire food situation’ of 90,000 refugees

23 January 2007 – United Nations agencies were today beginning a 12-day mission to assess the “dire food situation” of some 90,000 Sahrawi refugees in western Algeria, where they sought shelter from the conflict between Morocco, which claims the Western Sahara Territory, a former Spanish colony, and the Frente POLISARIO independence movement.

Repeated calls for funding, as late as last October, yielded little, leading to a temporary break in the food pipeline at the end of 2006 and a worsening situation. Supply has since been partially restored. The agencies have been providing aid to the refugees since they started arriving in the mid-seventies to the Tindouf area of Algeria.

Specialists from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), accompanied by non-government organization (NGO) partners and representatives of donor countries, will meet with beneficiaries, refugee leaders and the Algerian authorities in five camps and undertake an in-depth nutritional survey, assessing warehousing and distribution mechanisms.

The last such mission in 2005 concluded that there was malnutrition, and remedial measures were taken by various agencies and NGOs. Fresh food, such as fruit and vegetables, wheat soya supplements and high-energy biscuits, was increased. The creation of vegetable gardens in the camps has been promoted and water distribution improved by establishing water pipes instead of trucking.

While UNHCR and WFP have been focusing on the 90,000 most vulnerable beneficiaries, the camps have received additional aid from bilateral donors and NGOs. But the aid has not been enough and with their partners, UNHCR and WFP have on several occasions called for additional funding for this forgotten caseload.

Last February after devastating floods, UNHCR, the Algerian Government and the international community responded quickly with a $1-million emergency programme, but minimal funding has been received since then.

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