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‘Dramatic’ rise in refugee hunger, World Vision report finds

14 June 2024

Rises in child marriage and child labour, and worsening mental health, also reported

Alamy

Afghan refugees follow a truck to receive aid in a camp near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham, last November

Afghan refugees follow a truck to receive aid in a camp near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham, last November

GLOBAL cuts to the amount of daily rations given to refugees have led to dramatically increased levels of hunger, rises in child marriage and child labour, and worsening mental health, new research from World Vision has found.

Its report Taking from the hungry to feed the starving, published on Tuesday, signals World Refugee Day on 20 June. It is largely based on a survey conducted in February of 562 refugee families from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the DRC, Lebanon, Uganda, and Somalia. In total, the researchers spoke to 929 refugees to inform the report, including through 33 key informant interviews and 36 focus groups. These highlight the impact of cuts on refugee rations, which were enforced due to the widespread underfunding of humanitarian appeals.

The report finds that, before the cuts, refugee children were able to eat two meals a day; now, many were eating one a day, or no meals at all on some days. Half of those surveyed said that at least one family member had gone a whole day and night without eating in the past month. In Lebanon, 59 per cent of the 114 people surveyed reported having had no meals in the last 24 hours.

An increase in incidents of child marriage, sexual violence, and trafficking and child labour were also reported as a result of the cuts.

One teenage girl from the DRC told World Vision: “The first impact [of the ration cuts] is that we receive too much pressure from our families, especially at our age. Many of us are already taken as wives in our village. Sometimes we are even seen as an extra burden on the family.”

Humanitarian appeals have been drastically underfunded in the past few years, the report says. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Appeals has already revised down its target to help 181 million people in 2024 — far short of the 281 million who are currently affected by food insecurity.

Humanitarian funding received by February this year was 35-per-cent lower than had been recorded at the same stage in 2023. And, in 2023, just 38 per cent of the $56.7 billion (£44.45 billion) needed had been secured — the lowest percentage proportion since 2019.

World Vision’s Global Hunger response team has reported that, in some areas, food assistance has been withdrawn altogether.

There has also been a sharp increase in depression and suicide among refugees.

One parent in Uganda said: “Parents have committed suicide because of stress, since they are not able to provide food for the children.”

Researchers found that more than one in ten adults (13 per cent of those surveyed) reported feeling so hopeless that they did not want to carry on living. In Afghanistan, parents’ responses showed that almost all — 97 per cent — were at risk of mental-health disorders, more than four times the rate in other areas of conflict.

The director of World Vision’s Global Hunger Response, Mary Njeri, said: “These findings should instantly ring an alarm bell. Climate change, conflict, and Covid-19 have left more than 38 million people one step from starvation, and humanitarian aid is struggling to keep up. Children are telling us about parents sending them to work or to get married, and, in some cases, considering suicide as a result of the cuts.

“We must urgently increase the essential lifesaving aid that children and their families so desperately need to survive. We need not just increased food assistance, but better education, mental health and protection support for the most vulnerable families. Long-term support is also essential so children can go back to school and families can once again farm, find jobs, and support themselves.”

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