How refugees at Pagirinya camp are coping with reduced food rations
todaySeptember 8, 2021
By Gloria Lalam
The bare and rocky ground is littered with a few hardy trees. Electricity poles demarcate the land which is divided into small plots of land — each about 20 by 30 meters. A few slow flowing taps are scattered in the area. Young children, most of them below 12 years old, play as they line up their jerricans to get a turn at collecting water from the slow flowing taps that are located at strategic sections of the area. This is the Pagirinya Refugee settlement camp in Eastern Adjumani district in Northern Uganda which is home to over 36,880 South Sudan refugees who have been displaced from their homes since a multi-sided civil war broke out between government and opposition forces. Majority of the inhabitants at the camp are women and children. Adjumani has 19 refugee settlement camps with a population of 250,000 refugees as of 31st of December 2020. At the camp, the inhabitants build their homes with locally available materials and some have started kitchen gardens to supplement what food rations they get from the UN World Food Programme. The World Food Programme indicated that they had reduced food rations and cash transfers by between 10 and 30 per cent as the socio-economic tools of the pandemic reduced funding from donors. More than a year into the pandemic, funding has not improved for refugees such as those living in Pagirinya camp. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in the continent and is one of the top refugee hosting countries worldwide. With the pandemic affecting the access, distribution and supply chains, the rations have been reduced making life for the inhabitants more fraught. The World Food Programme WFP reports that the premature, spontaneous return of South Sudanese refugees from Uganda have also been linked to reduced food rations. Launching a global appeal for assistance, the WFP said rations to refugees had been reduced due to lack of resources. Refugees at Paraginya confirmed that their food rations had dropped by almost 50` percent. For example, instead of receiving 12.8 kg of maize and sorghum per person per month, 6 kgs of beans and one litre of oil per person per month, the refugees said they were now receiving 6 kgs of maize and sorghum, 2 kgs of yellow peas and half a litre of oil. The rations are now expected to last the refugees over a two month period due to disruptions in the supply chain. Refugees like Betty Ojjaba Mariko, a mother of five has been receiving money instead of food rations, the amount has dropped from the previous UG Shs 31,000 (US$8) per family member to UG Shs 19.000 (US$5). “This is something very meager and cannot even cater for my family. This is something we can only use for less than a week given the size of my home. Unless ill health I cannot dig to supplement what is given to my family”, she said. Adding: I am very bitter about this. If this money is divided each member of my household will get a paltry 600 shs. But this is not possible to feed any of my family for 2 months. I wish whoever thought of this could put on my shoes for once and feel how difficult it is to break down this money. Buying charcoal or firewood, food, salt among other daily household items for survival of my family. It is not easy living as a refugee. Furthermore, none of the refugee children are sponsored to have a decent education in the schools opened within the refugee settlement, hence it was from the money she received monthly from World Food program that she was able to use to acquire uniforms, other scholastic materials and pay fees for her children, with the food cut now she is worried that her children may not study any more.
Impact of the food cut The reduction in food rations has aggravated the situation especially for the children, expectant women and the elderly who are at risk of becoming malnourished which in turn impacts on their immune systems and increases their risk of being infected by COVID-19. Bua Florence a refugee woman settled in block B is failing to prepare the little food given for her family and the food she raises from her kitchen garden due to the scarcity in tree cover, that she can get for firewood, she expressed deep sorrow for the food reduction as they use to sell some portion of it, to acquire fire wood or charcoal. She alleges that the host communities do not allow them to cut down trees for firewood and in most cases; they are attacked and harmed when they cross over to the host community. “We almost died in January this year. We were surrounded by fire intentionally set by someone just because they never wanted us to fetch firewood. We would be dead by now if not by the intervention of God”, she said. Rose Alira, who is settled in block F, claims that the food reduction is affecting the welfare of her children, adding that some of her children are stealing household materials from neighbors for survival. “Our children are getting malnourished due to under feeding. Sometimes we are forced to trek long distances to look for casual work from members of the host communities just to raise money to survive. Already, 40 percent of the refugees have decided to go back to South Sudan because they find situations unbearable now”, she said. A number of South Sudanese refugees are calling on the government to expedite the peace talk process for a permanent solution to allow all its citizens to travel back to the country. The welfare council 2 Draciri Mark Alucio says a number of plots they are hiring for cultivation are not suitable for agricultural activities. “We have had several discussions with the UNHCR to at least secure for them land somewhere for them to cultivate but to date nothing has been done. Adding: “The population is high, over-powering the few natural resources that the refugees can use for fire wood and grass for construction which is not easy for the refugee women to easily access some of these things. This has made our women confused and their men voiceless because they cannot provide for the needs of their families”, he said. When schools were closed at the onset of the outbreak of COVID-19, schools in camps such as Pariginya were closed and the children missed out on school meals which were provided. It also means that the reduction in rations made it impossible for such organizations like the World Food Programme to provide take home rations to the children to help them study at home and stay nourished.
What are the solutions? To supplement the rations, many of the refugees have now started their own kitchen gardens to grow vegetables for their families. Those with small family sizes are able to set aside a small section of the land they have been allocated to put up a kitchen garden. But this space has been declining even as more refugees stream into the camps. For the majority of the refugees, they do not have space for such gardens as they have used the land for makeshift structures to cater for their large and extended families who fled insecurity in their country. Bua Florence, a mother of six is among the few camp residents who have started a kitchen garden. She grows crops like Sukuma wiki (Kale), Doodo (Amaranth), Boo (Cowpeas), and sweet potatoes which she uses to supplement her family’s rations. Her endeavours to grow vegetables and other foods means that her children no longer complain about the monotony of their diet as their food is varied and more nutritious. Bua is not alone in setting up a kitchen garden to boost her income and improve the nutritional levels of her family. In other refugee camps in Uganda, refugees have been encouraged to set up kitchen gardens where they can grow spinach, red amaranth, onions, cabbages, tomatoes, green peppers and so many vegetables which are rich in many nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A and Vitamin C.
Other areas A number of refugees are banking on a kitchen garden project piloted by the World Vision in Kyaka II camp in Kyegegwa District in Western Uganda in 2019 to encourage refugees to make use of the very small pieces of land allocated them to grow food for consumption as well as for income generation. Two demonstration kitchen gardens were set up at two food distribution points at Sweswe and Byabakora where community leaders were trained. They also provided seeds to encourage them to start their own gardens where they are growing their own high value, nutrient dense vegetables. The aim of the project was to scale it up to other refugee camps in the country to enhance food security and reduce dependency on food rations. But not all refugees have been able to join the initiative. Bua is lucky as she is near a stream and she is therefore able to grow food crops even during the dry season. She sells the excess yield she has to fellow refugees and the host community. On average, she makes UG Shs 5000 (US$1.3) every week from the sale of her farm produce. At Nyumanzi settlement camp in Dzaipi Sub County, Adjumani district, other South Sudanese women have started their own kitchen gardens to supplement their food rations, curb malnutrition and generate some income for other family needs. Pauline Baako Sebbit, is a mother of 8 children who solely depends on the rations she receives from the World Food Programme. The reduction in rations means that she sometimes goes hungry as she tries to stretch the food she receives to ensure her children at least get a bite. And even then, the food is nearly not enough and the children are always hungry until the next distribution. She is sometimes forced to sell a portion of her family’s food rations to buy medicines and other necessities that they need such as soap.
OPM speaks out Titus Jogo, a refugee desk officer (RDO) confirms the food shortage in the camp and the adverse effect it is having on the camp residents. He said the reduction in rations caught many of the officials unawares. “It is true we are having reduction in food ratios due to constraints. This came at a wrong time when no land for cultivation was acquired for the refugees to cultivate, it also came at the start of the dry season when they cannot cultivate to supplement their food rations,” he says. Providing the refugees with cash transfers to meet their food needs was being considered after the government conducted a market survey in the West Nile region last year. The refugees had expressed concern that the cash transfers being offered were inadequate for them to meet their dietary needs and had suggested that they receive UGSh18,600 per month (US$5) or UGSh600 per day to enable them buy the food they needed. The survey is expected to establish the cost of food available in the region so that any cash transfers are reasonable and are consistent with the market rates. About 1 percent of the refugee children have been abandoned by parents who trek long distances to look for available ways for survival and those children left have formed a committee to foster them because young as they are, they cannot regulate their meals to meet the next distribution. However, he refuted claims that the food cut is increasing theft in the community, but pushing this claim to the long closure of schools which has made the children idle and disorderly and their parents cannot manage them as they are full time with them.
This article was produced by the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with The ONE Campaign and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).”
COVER PHOTO: A number of refugees are grappling with reduced food rations.