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Opinion

Joint appeal on Kenya refugee resourcing

With the unprecedented rate of displacement in Syria, UNHCR cannot provide much needed aid at other crisis points.

Last updated: 30 Nov 2013 11:45
Ertharin Cousin

Ertharin Cousin is the executive director of the World Food Programme.
Antonio Guterres

Antonio Guterres is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
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Food rations at Dadaab refugee camp have been cut by 20 percent [Reuters]

Two years ago, the world's attention was riveted by the Horn of Africa crisis. The region was in the grips of a devastating drought, with famine in southern Somalia taking tens of thousands of lives.

In the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya, we met Somali families whose stories of survival against all odds were heart-rending. We spoke to mothers with small children who had walked for weeks to reach safety, and were humbled by their strength, determination, and sheer will to live. We grieved with them as they told of the children they had lost along the way.

More than 1,500 people a day were arriving in Dadaab, many so weak that they seemed barely alive. UNHCR, WFP and our partners mobilized an enormous humanitarian response to be sure that they found food, water, shelter, and safety.

Today, those same families are again an inspiration. Children who seemed too weak to move are now happy, healthy and - if they're old enough - excitedly going to school. They dream of becoming doctors, teachers, shopkeepers, engineers. They also dream of going home.

And we hope that before long they can go home. The situation in Somalia has improved, and while it is still early, already some are making the decision to venture back.

But the fact remains that half a million refugees are currently living in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya, and they continue to require the same things they needed two years ago: shelter, food, water and safety. Our organizations, along with our partners, continue to provide these services, and we have committed to keep doing that for as long as the refugees need them.

Around the world, there is a growing gap between the humanitarian needs created by a series of protracted crises and the resources available to meet those needs.

But the world's gaze has turned elsewhere, to other crises, where people are also facing enormous challenges and hardship.

We are humbled all over again by new stories of strength and survival from the Philippines - where Typhoon Haiyan left millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance - and from Syria, where millions are displaced internally or into neighbouring countries. Our hearts go out to all who face such plight.

At the same time we must also acknowledge that the Syria crisis alone has become so immense and protracted that we cannot continue treating it like other humanitarian emergencies. More people have been forced to flee their homes than we have seen anywhere else in the world in many years, and the scale of their needs is taxing the ability of aid agencies to respond.

It is also, unfortunately, stretching donor aid budgets, and endangering our ability to provide for people who face serious challenges in other parts of the world - including Somali refugees.

Facing a shortage of funding, on November 1, WFP was forced to reduce food rations for refugees in Kenya by 20 percent. If these cuts must be long-lasting or expanded, it could slow or even reverse the refugees' recovery, and endanger their health all over again.

Around the world, there is a growing gap between the humanitarian needs created by a series of protracted crises and the resources available to meet those needs. The food ration cuts in Kenya may be the first sign of this, but unless something changes they are unlikely to be the last.

We, therefore, need to develop a more systematic and sustainable way to continue providing vital assistance to refugees from Somalia and elsewhere until they can return home, so that our earlier efforts are not undone.

We urge donor countries to create dedicated, supplementary budget lines for Syria and for the countries hosting Syrian refugees. Funding for the Syrian crisis must be sustained and even increased, but it cannot continue to be provided at the expense of others suffering elsewhere.

WFP and UNHCR recognize that the global economic situation is difficult for many countries, but are appealing to donors to provide more humanitarian funding globally and broader funding mechanisms specifically for Syria, so that assistance can keep pace with needs, no matter where those needs occur.

Ertharin Cousin is the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. Antonio Guterres is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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