Refugees most vulnerable in ongoing food insecurity crisis – UN


Two refugees identified as Muhindo and his wife Harriet are among the new wave of people leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo after inter-communal clashes in southwestern DRC. UN agencies have called for substantial action against refugees, especially with regard to food security. Credit: UNHCR
  • by Julia Morrison (United Nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Co-organized by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP) and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations, a panel discussion on September 14, 2022 also explored innovative solutions to combat food shortages and increase the capacity of refugees. It came ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the global food crisis and protection.

Food insecurity has become a huge problem. In 2019, the WFP estimated that 145 million people were dealing with acute food insecurity. Now the organization states that 345 million people are confronted with insecurity. The combination of climate change shocks, COVID-19 and conflict has pushed several countries, such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen, into a very real risk of famine.

Action on food insecurity is “more important than ever today,” said Valerie Guarnieri, deputy director of the WFP, during the panel section.

Among those particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of food insecurity are refugees and internally displaced persons.

Raouf Mazou, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for operations and moderator of the event, explained that the increased vulnerability of refugees is mainly due to the nature of displacement and the loss of community security networks that come with it.

“When refugees fleeing sell their belongings or are forced to abandon them, their journey to safety is often fraught with peril. Failure of family and community support systems. They usually lose their income and often have no choice but to use harmful strategies as coping mechanisms.”

Coping mechanisms refer to tactics that a family or community employs to compensate for a loss of income. In response to COVID-19 lockdowns, UNHCR reported cases of transactional sex, early marriage, child recruitment and human trafficking in its operations.

For Mazou, these challenges point to the need to focus protection in efforts to address food security by governments and NGOs.

Special attention should also be paid to the specific fortunes of women and girls, he argued. When searching for food, displaced women and girls are at increased risk of sexual violence, intimate partner violence and child and forced marriages.

In Somali regions hit by drought, gender-based violence has risen 200 percent since 2021, Mazaou noted. He pointed to several factors that can lead to violence when a community faces food insecurity.

“Food insecurity increases the risk of violence, neglect and exploitation and abuse of children. Girls may drop out of school at a higher rate than boys when families are unable to pay school fees for all their children. The household sent children in search of food to pasture for livestock, exposing them to increased risks.”

The food crisis is also affecting the ability of host countries to care for refugees.

Ethiopia, the third country hosting refugees in Africa, is on the brink of famine. The country is taking into account the historic drought affecting the Horn of Africa, which is seriously threatening its food networks.

Yoseph Kassaye, Ethiopia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, underlined the crisis and pressure on the country’s ability to protect refugees.

The drought has wiped out important food sources that refugees depend on, such as livestock and water sources. Kassaye explained that the lack of natural resources means that refugees can only rely on humanitarian aid.

However, this is also at risk. Funding restrictions forced the WFP to cut its rations for refugees in Ethiopia by 50 percent in June.

“It is indeed disturbing to hear that the level of support from international humanitarian organizations has reportedly declined as a result of the funding gaps. In our view, urgent action is needed to provide timely and effective assistance to the people who need assistance,” Kassaye said.

Citing related statistics, Guarnieri stressed the importance of increasing humanitarian aid. But she also underlined initiatives that increased the capacity of refugee populations and host countries.

“We must do everything we can as WFP and UNHCR, as the international community to meet these urgent food needs and these desperate protection needs, but we will never be able to catch up unless we also invest in building the resilience in supporting the livelihoods and strengthening the self-reliance of populations that have forcibly displaced populations seeking refuge in other countries.”

She also emphasized the power of cross-sector collaboration. An example of this was the WFP-UNHCR Joint Hub, a collaboration between agencies and governments to support refugees through innovative solutions and policies.

The hub was founded in 2020 and has worked on several projects. An agreement with the government of Mauritania resulted in Malian refugees being included in the National Social Protection Plan, making refugees eligible for remittances for vulnerable households.

Dorte Verner, the chief agricultural economist in the Agricultural and Food Global Practice at the World Bank, came up with another innovative solution to boost food production: insect farming.

Verner says insect farming has enormous potential to address food insecurity in vulnerable communities, as it requires no farmland, very little water, and will not lead to a loss of biodiversity. These properties allow it to be practiced even in refugee camps, Verner said.

“Insert-breeding can give displaced people the skills they need to produce where they are, and they can take those skills into human capital where they go next. can contribute to alleviating food and nutritional insecurity in the world for forcibly displaced persons and the host community.”

At the end of the meeting, participants gathered around the need to use the commitments being made to address food insecurity in a meaningful way.

Several participants also took the opportunity to continue the conversation at the Security Council meeting to be held later in the afternoon, where more concrete measures on food insecurity can be explored.

A representative from Ireland stated that comprehensive Security Council action was needed to address the issue in a meaningful way.

“If we don’t look at what drives these prices in the first place, what drives this uncertainty in the first place? Then, you know, we’ll be chasing us all the time because the problems get worse.”

He called on the Security Council to discuss the matter further.

“Part of the UN system plays its part, but the UN Security Council also has to play its part. That means responding early when we see the signs of crises coming, but it also means responding, particularly to protect civilians, and crises and meetings to ensure things are at the center of our response.”

Report of the IPS UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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