July 10, Addis Ababa: The Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) together with WFP and UNHCR has held a joint consultation meeting with representatives of donor countries. The meeting was organized following the effective ration cut, since July, of 30% of general rations by the World Food Programme due to financial constraints resulting in pipeline shortages.
The meeting was led by ARRA Deputy Director, Zeynu Jemal, WFP deputy country director, Samir Wanmali and Matthew Crentsil , UNHCR deputy representative. In attendance included representatives from the European Commission, DFID,USAID , as well as donor countries including representatives from Denmark, Finland, French, German, Italian, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Swedish as well as Switzerland embassies.
In his opening remarks Ato Zeynu Jemal highlighted the overall challenges facing the Ethiopian refugee programme amidst a continuing influx of large number of refugees mainly from South Sudan. He called upon donor countries to maximize their assistance as the Ethiopian refugee operation is in transition from relief assistance to a more development oriented approach that would work to significantly improve refugee lives referring to the implementation of the planned nine policy commitments Ethiopia has made during the UN summit in September 2016.
The support from donor countries at this stage is crucial because “it will pay off later”, added Zeynu Jemal. Investing in sustainable refugee development initiatives is in the benefit of donors which will then ease the huge demand for finances as refugees rely on alternative means of making their livelihoods.
“The current ration cut WFP is experiencing is “mainly emanated from resource constraints with a diverse negative implications on the lives of refugees and host communities, “ said in his remarks.
The ration cut has held to breakage in food pipeline forcing WFP to cut its general ration by 30% leaving refugees with little kilo calories required for a healthy diet as well resorting refugees to engage in negative coping mechanisms to fulfill their food needs.
Asked about alternative options to improve the food security of refugees, Ato Zeynu highlighted the possibilities of expanding the combined cash and food modality to other camps when its implementation becomes appropriate. “We have to make sure its impact is positive, it doesn’t destabilize local markets. It should be done in a well-thought out plan.” ,reiterated Zeynu Jemal.
WFP’s Samir Wanmali mentioned the funding gap of some 42 million USD between now and December. He stressed the need to making sure that resources available should last longer before reviewing current distribution modalities.
The UNHCR deputy representative on his part also said, he would also see a big funding gap in other programme areas including health services and protection of refugees including limited coping mechanisms . “Supplementing existing interventions is crucial to avoid the perennial nature of such challenges”, said Mr. Crentsil.
“If we are going to have a new food distribution modality, we have to really think very carefully”, added Mr. Crentsil highlighting the potential of further ration cuts in creating a chaotic situation in refugee camps. The situation in South Sudan is extremely unpredictable. And we need to think of the worst case scenario.” added Mr. Wanmali.
Attending donor representatives reassured their continued support to the cause of refugees in Ethiopia. Ségolène de BECO, Head of Office of ECHO, reaffirmed the European Commission’s continued support. “We have all the same objective with regards to supporting refugees. We really want to support the government in its open-door policy and the recent policy commitments”, added the ECHO official.
Adjourning the meeting, Ato Zeynu stressed the urgent need to deal with funding shortages to meet refugee food needs. “ If we can’t address it now, we may end up with a problem beyond imagination. We need to improve the services in all sectors.”, he said. “We aren’t asking for huge generosity but sharing a responsibility and a burden to deal with outstanding issues that need our immediate intervention.”