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Kakuma Revisited

Kakuma Revisited

Dear editors,

I would like to comment on the article "Household Food Economy Assessment in Kakuma Refugee Camp" (Field Exchange, Issue 1, May 97). From 1992 to 1994, I worked as the UNHCR nutritionist in Kenya. In late 92, and early 1993, interventions to address the particular nutritional problems of unaccompanied minors (UMs) in Kakuma camp were discussed at length, and implemented. I was therefore disappointed to see that these same issues were still being discussed almost 5 years later, and that actions taken in 1993, had been reversed.

Nutritional problems of unaccompanied minors were first discussed in the WFP/UNHCR Food Assessment Mission (FAM) in January 1993. It was recognised then that the general 'ration recommended for refugees in Kenya would not meet 'the needs of unaccompanied minors, 'and that they had no other sources of food. The general ration at the time, provided 2100-2200 kcals/person/day (depending on the type of cereal included). Requirements for adolescent boys were taken as 2500 kcals/person/day. In the FAM, it was recommended that the additional needs of the minors, were to be met by providing school meals. The numbers of school children were however thought to be too large to cook for (14,000 at the time), and UNHCR resourced biscuits to be distributed at the schools. The blended food ration was doubled so that a substantial meal could be prepared quickly before the UMs left for school (the preparation of cereals and beans took too long). This also addressed the problem of micro-nutrient deficiencies.

Later, in May 1993, the agencies working in Kakuma camp, rejected the idea of school feeding. All agencies agreed that the best solution would be to increase the general ration for all refugees in Kakuma, to a level that would meet the needs of the minors. Justifications included:

A general ration providing 2500 kcals/person/day was recommended for all refugees in Kakuma, and accepted by WFP. This consisted of: 450 g cereals, 60 g beans, 25 g oil, 20 g sugar, 100 g blended food, 5g salt. This ration was maintained at least until I left Kenya in July 1994.

From SCF' s article, it appears that the general ration was substantially reduced between 1994 and 1996, both in terms of quantity and quality. I expect that in Kakuma, as in other protracted emergencies, a reduction in rations was based on the assumption that after a certain length of time the population will develop 'coping mechanisms' that will provide them with additional sources of food (see for example summary of OLS Review findings in Issue 1). I wonder whether there was actually any empirical evidence that the refugees' food security and nutritional situation had improved over this period, to justify this change. SCF's assessment clearly shows that this was not the case. As far as I can see, arguments put forward in 1993 to provide an increased general ration, still apply today. I would be interested to hear from UNHCR and SCF UK, why this option was not considered.

Yours etc.,
Susanne Jaspars,
Independent Food and Nutrition Advisor.

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Susanne Jaspars (1998). Kakuma Revisited. Field Exchange 3, January 1998. p19. www.ennonline.net/fex/3/kakuma

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