By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations plans to halve food rations for 200,000 refugees in Uganda, following an "overwhelming" influx of South Sudanese fleeing attacks, forced recruitment, hunger and rape, the U.N. food agency said on Wednesday.
Uganda hosts almost 310,000 South Sudanese, including more than 70,000 who arrived since fighting broke out on July 7 between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing former vice president Riek Machar, raising fears of a slide back to civil war.
"We have been left with no option but to reduce food assistance for many of the refugees in Uganda, in order to stretch available resources and prioritise the most vulnerable new arrivals," the World Food Programme's (WFP) acting country director in Uganda, Mike Sackett, said in a statement.
Refugees who arrived in Uganda after July 2015, as well as the extremely vulnerable and those requiring treatment for malnutrition, will continue to receive a full ration, WFP said.
However, 200,000 refugees who fled to Uganda before July 2015, mostly from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, will be affected by the cuts in food aid. WFP said it needs an extra $20 million to restore full food rations to refugees for the rest of the year.
South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, has been rocked by more than two years of ethnically charged fighting that has forced more than one in five of its 11 million people to flee.
Some 1,000 South Sudanese refugees are arriving each day in Uganda, down from a peak of 8,000 in mid-July, according to Ross Smith, WFP's head of program in Uganda.
"The number of refugees is overwhelming the available resources," Smith told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"They are fleeing with a lot of luggage so we anticipate that people do not expect to return soon."
On some days, up to 95 percent of new arrivals seeking safety are women, children and youth, he said.
"The major challenge at the moment is the congestion in some of the reception and transit centers," Ross said, adding that there was limited access to water, sanitation and shelter.
"The crowding and the large number of people concentrated in a small space creates a real risk for morbidity and disease transmission."
Many of the existing refugee settlements are full so a new settlement is being opened in Yumbe District, he said.
Hundreds of people were killed and the United Nations said government soldiers and security forces executed civilians and gang-raped women and girls during and after last month's fighting. South Sudan rejected the accusations.
Fighting also broke out in the southwest in August despite a July 11 ceasefire.
Uganda hosts approximately 600,000 refugees and asylum seekers and expects to receive at least an additional 35,000 from South Sudan alone before the end of 2016, Ross said.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)