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Grim future for refugees as donors cut humanitarian aid

WFP deputy country director, Marcus Prior (L), and the Head of Partnerships Development, Magnus Bruun Rasmussen, address the press at their offices in Kampala

WFP deputy country director, Marcus Prior (L), and the Head of Partnerships Development, Magnus Bruun Rasmussen, address the press at their offices in Kampala

As of December 31, 2022, Uganda was host to 1,463,523 refugees and 32,165 asylum seekers living in various settlements and urban centers across the country.

While Uganda ranks as the top African refugee-hosting nation and among the top five worldwide, donors are making significant changes towards refugee support, citing a lack of funds, write YUDAYA NANGONZI & JOHN MUSINGUZI.

Without sufficient funding due to increased competition for humanitarian resources globally, the United Nations organizations have resorted to prioritization of budgets to cover the emergency and critical needs of refugees.

The donor cuts are likely to have a severe impact on refugees but organizations are struggling to outsource donor funding. For instance, the World Food Programme (WFP) in Uganda has been facing severe funding shortages for the refugee response despite continuous resource mobilization efforts.

According to the head of Partnerships Development at WFP, Magnus Bruun Rasmussen, they have anticipated working with lesser resources this year – thus focusing on the most critical people.

“When we talk to donors, they are also prioritizing areas that they see have the biggest need but also prioritizing operations where we are most efficient. In December 2022, we agreed that the rations of food will be reduced from 60 to 40 per cent to mitigate the impact of depreciating resources,” Bruun said.

This implies that refugees are currently receiving 26 to 40 per cent of the food rations. To operate at 100 per cent in 2023 alone, the WFP needs at least $363 million (about Shs 1.3tn).

Bruun said this would be an “unrealistic ask” from donors to support an organization like WFP which received approximately $120 million (about Shs 444bn) last year for the refugee response.

If we are to continue with these reduced rations throughout the year [2023]. The whole funding envelope for WFP Uganda will be approximately $160 million (about Shs 592bn).

Currently, WFP has roughly secured only $60 million which also experienced a shortfall even before going into March where we could see drastic ration reductions if we don’t manage to secure funding. We are looking for the extra $100 million to complete this year,” Bruun said.

WFP is the biggest buyer of food in Uganda with at least 78 of its produce from local farmers. Whereas 20 per cent of the food must be purchased from smallholder farmers, the dwindling resources are also a cause for concern among the farmers.


The significant changes by WFP were arrived at after extensive consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

The WFP deputy country director, Marcus Prior, told The Observer that under the new needs-based approach, refugees have been grouped into three categories based on their level of vulnerability as highlighted in the 2022 UNHCR Individual Profiling Exercise for refugees.

Beyond the UNHCR data, there will be room for individual declarations by refugees who are no longer interested in the monthly food assistance.

"This has not come as a surprise to refugees because we have fully engaged them on these changes for clear and transparent communication. The purpose behind the changes is to optimize the available resources to improve the quality of WFP’s programming in support of refugee self-reliance,” Prior said.

He added: “The prioritization started last year across all the settlements. Previously, it was largely dependent on one’s refugee status but now changed to your vulnerability. The other projects will continue as planned but the changes affect the WFP monthly humanitarian life-saving food assistance to refugees that is normally delivered in form of food or cash.”

The refugees are now categorized as; least, moderate, and most vulnerable. According to the WFP plan, the most vulnerable refugees – including new arrivals – will receive a 70 per cent ration, the moderate will continue with 60 per cent, while the least vulnerable that have achieved a level of self-reliance will either drop to 40 per cent or be entirely scrapped off the monthly assistance.

Female-headed households without a regular income and those with persons with disabilities, the elderly, and the chronically
ill, among others will be the most prioritized.

However, Prior said the decision to categorize refugees is not a permanent one. An appeals mechanism will be initiated for refugee households that feel that they have been wrongly categorized.

“I understand cases of corruption such as scraping off or adding beneficiaries on lists may arise but we are going into this with our eyes wide open together with the OPM and UNHCR. We have task forces in the settlements where there’s a close understanding of the dynamics within the population and its leadership. We shall ensure that there is no coercion or corruption during this process,” he said.


Currently, WFP provides monthly assistance in form of food or cash to an estimated 1.4 million refugees in 13 settlements across the country. However, the percentage of refugees receiving cash assistance has increased from 20 per cent in 2018 to 55 per cent to date.

Prior said they are now gradually embracing more cash assistance which gives households a level of dignity on how they spend their resources.

“The cash brings them into the local economy in a more meaningful way. Worldwide, we have seen how refugee communities can be a huge asset to host countries and communities. With the fluctuating prices of goods and services, we are working to revise the cash assistance so that it can purchase the minimum food basket covered by the food rations,” he said.

In the South West refugee settlements, they have embraced 100 per cent cash assistance or agency banking – save for new arrivals that get food rations in the early months. The same transition is expected in the North this year although refugees on that side would prefer the certainty of receiving food rations than cash to battle with the unstable food prices in the market.”

It is worth noting that refugees are increasingly monetizing some of the food rations given to them to earn a living. Prior agreed that globally, refugees may choose to market a portion of their food rations in return for money to cover other urgent household needs.

Asked what the future holds for refugees with the shrinking donor resource envelope, Prior said: “We hope we don’t get to that point as we continue with our advocacy with donors who can support the refugees. If we see spikes in Malnutrition and people sleep back into acute vulnerability, we shall think twice and step up to support them once again.”

UNHCR statistics indicate that there are 1,495,688 refugees in Uganda. Of these, 92% are living in settlements and 8% in urban centers. Of the total refugee population, at least 1.2 million are women and children, 38,680 elderly, and 342,020 are youths – with South Sudan in the lead at 57% of the refugees. It is followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (32%), Somalia (4%), Burundi (3%), and Eritrea (2%).


0 #1 Akao 2023-02-26 21:37
There is a silver lining in that. The shameless old man will probably now say, Uganda will no longer be bringing in more refugees if he learns that the donors will be reducing donations.

That way, the environment can be saved from all these additional people in the already congested Uganda. Ugandans from the north were in IDP camps for a long time, these people from neighboring countries can also remain in their countries in IDP camps.

I don't understand why life is going on in other parts of these countries like Congo and South Sudan, but their people are always in Uganda. Since I was a child, they were always Sundanese and Congolese refugee in Uganda, I think it's a high time they need to sort out their own affairs
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