20 June 2016

Malawi: Challenges Abound for Refugees in Malawi

Melissa Gibson — In Malawi, WFP's monthly distributions cover about 90 percent of food consumed by refugees. Without new contributions, WFP faces critical shortfalls that will aggravate the already fragile food security situation of Dzaleka camp.

Dzaleka Refugee Camp - Malawi's primary hosting ground for refugees - has swelled to nearly 27,000 people as more and more cross the Malawian border in hope of escaping political insecurity in their home countries. Recent unrest across the border in Mozambique has resulted in an influx of about 8,000 Mozambicans seeking refuge in Malawi, with most of them in Mwanza and Neno districts.

Projections put the total refugee population in Malawi at nearly 57,000 by October 2016. WFP has been providing food assistance in Dzaleka for over two decades, and now also serves those from Mozambique. To continue providing food assistance, WFP urgently requires US$ 8.4 million through March 2017. Without new contributions, food stocks will be depleted by the end of November 2016.

Dzaleka is located 35 km north of the capital city of Lilongwe. While the majority of refugees in Dzaleka come from the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions - the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia and Ethiopia - there are also some refugees from Zambia and Zimbabwe.

WFP's monthly rations - maize, pulses, fortified vegetable oil and fortified, blended food to prevent malnutrition - make up around 90 percent of food consumed by refugees. In Malawi, refugees have limited access to arable land or means of earning a living, rendering them largely dependent on humanitarian assistance.

"My entire family depends on the WFP ration because we cannot afford to buy anything else" says Echoia Asukulu (38), married with 10 children.

WFP's food assistance plays a crucial role in meeting the basic food needs of refugees and helping prevent malnutrition. Since WFP began providing fortified, blended food and fortified vegetable oil, prevalence of anaemia among children under five years has decreased by 8 percent.

The severity of the shortfalls cannot be underscored: for some months in 2015, WFP was forced to reduce rations by half. Such cuts drive refugees to adopt negative coping mechanisms, including early marriage, so-called survival sex by women and girls, and school drop-outs.

New contributions will enable WFP to resume provisions of full food rations, ensuring the nutritional status of all refugees. WFP is also attempting to shift to a combination of cash-based transfers (CBTs) and in-kind food distributions at Dzaleka, though there is no secured funding for the provision of cash. CBTs give dignity, flexibility and choice to the recipient, as s/he can choose what food items are needed most. Given the diversity of cultural backgrounds represented at Dzaleka, this could be an important step forward in giving some autonomy to the camp's population.

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