The UN World Food Programme is to slash in half food rations for half a million refugees in Kenya as it scrambles for funding amid an unprecedented number of emergencies around the globe.
We really don't want to be doing this. Telling hungry people they'll be receiving less food than they're accustomed to is never easy.
Steve Taravella, a senior spokesman with the food agency, said the WFP was taking the last-resort measure in the wake of humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic and now West Africa with the Ebola outbreak.
Taravella said WFP expected it would have to reduce rations like this in other places as resources are stretched thin.
"We really don't want to be doing this," he said. "Telling hungry people they'll be receiving less food than they're accustomed to is never easy."
As of Saturday, the 500,000 refugees in northern Kenya, most of them from South Sudan and Somalia, will receive a daily food ration of just over 1,000 calories, compared to the 2,100 calories a day they have been getting, through the end of January.
That is when a United States food donation is expected to arrive, but that amount is expected to be enough for just six weeks.
The WFP is trying to raise $38m to pay for its Kenya refugee operations for the next six months.
This year has seen similar cuts elsewhere, notably in conflict-torn Syria and its neighbours, which have taken in millions of Syrian refugees.
The announcement came as a convergence of droughts, harvest failures, locust invasions and political conflicts in Mali have left 4.75 million people without enough to eat, UN officials said.
'Not possible to help'
UNICEF emergency director, Afshan Khan, said the children's agency estimates that almost one million children in the country are suffering from varying degrees of malnutrition - and close to half a million youngsters will suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year.
John Ging, the director of UN humanitarian operations, warned that without an urgent infusion of additional funds "we can expect that the situation will continue to deteriorate".
He said the UN had received $230 million of the $481m it needs for humanitarian aid for Mali - just 48 percent.
The UN food agency has to rely on a patchwork of donor appeals and commitments. It had to make temporary cuts recently in North Korea and Congo as well.
"Where there are so many true crises on the global landscape, it's just not possible to continue providing help," Taravella said.
He said he believes this is the first time the agency has had to cut rations in Kenya, which has taken in a large number of refugees from conflict-hit places like Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia over the years.