Protecting Africa's most vulnerable

RedR Australia’s Tigest Sendaba is helping the World Food Programme (WFP) respond to the East Africa food crisis and her efforts will ensure the most vulnerable are protected as demand continues to outstrip WFP’s available food supply.

“Coming here was like coming home,” said Tigest who migrated to Australia from Ethiopia when she was young.

The World Food Programme is providing food aid to Ugandans in drought-affected Karamoja in the northeast as well as the growing refugee population that Uganda hosts.

Originally deployed to WFP to support the Uganda country office to develop a gender action plan and to mainstream protection and gender into their programming, Tigest quickly found herself deployed to refugee settlements in the northwest when the civil war escalated in South Sudan.

More than half a million South Sudanese have crossed into Uganda since the conflict reignited in July last year and thousands continue to flee over the border daily.

“Initially no one anticipated the amount of people that would be coming and would continue to come into the country. The Government of Uganda and all supporting humanitarian agencies were taken by surprise and had to scale up extensively to meet the influx,” Tigest said.

“I was deployed to the refugee settlements for a rapid assessment of gender and protection issues. I looked at what impact WFP was having and also what impact this influx would have on our activities.”

“What WFP does really well is emergency response. The agency is able to get food out quickly and implement this well but we have to be cognisant and mindful of the whole system and the other humanitarian actors and their programming. Food is a critical component of any humanitarian response and when food is delayed or operations are not meeting beneficiary needs, it can have widespread repercussions,” she said.

Eighty five per cent of the refugees are women and children and Tigest says that WFP had to rapidly implement food ration cuts across Uganda so that the new arrivals, who were most at risk as they had the least resources, could be prioritised for food transfers.

“When doing food cuts, I spent time to make sure negative coping mechanisms like sexual transactions and exploitations in exchange for food, or providing less food to girls and women in the household, don’t become issues,” she said.

Refugees receive high energy biscuits and hot meals immediately upon arrival. Following registration, they are then allocated plots of land and given monthly food portions for their family.

 “The really amazing thing about Uganda is that there are no “camps” for refugees. Upon arrival, everyone is registered and given a plot of land to farm in settlements throughout the country. They can access health, education and employment opportunities and travel freely. They enjoy the same rights as local citizens except for participation in voting.”

At least 30% of WFP’s support in Uganda goes to local host communities through health and education services that are accessible to all; both refugee and host populations.

Uganda and Ethiopia are the largest refugee hosting countries in Africa.

“When I do protection assessments and meet with local host communities I get a real sense of welcoming from them towards the refugees. They say things like ‘it could be us one day’, ‘we are all brothers and sisters’ and ‘we need to help each other’ and it’s really heart-warming,” Tigest said.

 “Protection-wise the critical thing I’m looking at is that people are informed of their rights, how to complain and provide feedback and that protection risks in food and cash distributions are mitigated. Clear complaints and feedback mechanisms are critical for ensuring that we can continue to fulfil beneficiary satisfaction and rights.”

WFP also supports Ugandans in the north-eastern drought-affected region of Karamoja which borders South Sudan and Kenya to the east. Seasonal food insecurity and malnutrition continue to be persistent challenges in this region. In both Karamoja and the refugee operations, Tigest’s role is to make sure the most vulnerable households are protected.