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WFP shifts focus of food assistance

Displaced people wait as food is distributed by WFP at the Don Bosco camp in Dili
Displaced people wait as food is distributed by WFP at the Don Bosco camp in Dili (Stephanie March/IRIN)

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) will cut food aid for displaced people in Timor-Leste this month to ensure assistance reaches the most vulnerable and food insecure communities throughout the country.

The policy decision is based on a report that shows some WFP aid is reaching people who are not food insecure, while bypassing tens of thousands of other Timorese in need.

Timor-Leste’s State Secretary for Social Assistance Jacinto De Deus told IRIN: "We had expected that WFP would continue supporting [the IDPs] but they have decided they can only support until the end of March, so the government has to try to fill in the gap."

The decision to reduce this food aid had been expected - with the support of the government, WFP began providing half rations to IDPs in February 2008.

Both the government and the UN told IRIN the reduction of food rations was not a ploy to force IDPs out of the camps, but instead based on the report, which revealed only half of the 70,000 displaced registered in the camps and at host families were actually food insecure.

The study also revealed that around 35,000 people who are not IDPs are in desperate need of food assistance.

Focus on vulnerable groups

"What we are trying to do now is to stop food distribution altogether, and we are trying to identify people who are chronically vulnerable, who need continued assistance maybe in the form of food, or food coupons, not only IDPs but also the rest of the population," WFP Country Director Joan Fleuren told IRIN.


Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN
Feeding time at Motael IDP camp in Dili

"Our normal programme is already directed at mother and child health centres, school feeding programmes and food-for-work, and IDPs are a sub sector of our programme," he said.

He said many of the IDPs would be eligible to receive food aid from the government though those programmes and initiatives to support breastfeeding mothers, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

In the absence of direct WFP food aid to IDPs, the government is appealing to donors to help find the money needed to feed those who remain in camps or with relatives throughout the country.

"This year, the government allocated US$15 million for internally displaced people, but that money is targeted chiefly at the recovery and rehabilitation process, with none allocated for humanitarian assistance,'' De Deus told IRIN.

Tight government food budget

The government is currently using US$1 million - money allocated in the 2007 transitional budget for humanitarian aid caused by natural disasters - to buy rice for IDPs.

De Deus said the money would only last until the end of June, at which time the government would be forced to find the US$700,000 per month needed to feed the country's remaining displaced population. He said the government failed to include any money for this in the 2008 budget.

As of April, the government will stop providing food aid for the 20 percent of IDPs who work as civil servants, as they already receive a food allowance in their salary.

Jose Sarmento, a lecturer at the university in Dili living in the Don Bosco IDP camp with 3,000 others, told IRIN that under the government’s new policy he will not receive any more food aid. He said the money he receives as a teacher – including his food allowance - is not enough to provide for his family, and that if he lived in his house, not the IDP camp, he would be able to subsidise his income with extra work.

While officials claim the food cutbacks are not designed as an inducement for IDPs to return home, in the end they may just have that effect.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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