Ration cuts to food aid exacerbate hunger, suicidal thoughts, child abuse and trafficking

20 Jun 2024 by World Vision
Ration cuts to food aid exacerbate hunger, suicidal thoughts, child abuse and trafficking

  • Two-thirds of those affected by ration cuts said a family member had gone to bed hungry in the past month.
  • More than 40% of refugees thought children were now subject to more violence, neglect or abuse.
  • More than one in ten (13%) adults reported feeling so hopeless that they no longer wanted to carry on living.
World Vision is calling on the New Zealand government to increase its contribution to global food aid in light of a new report which reveals that food ration cuts are exacerbating not only hunger and malnutrition, but also child labour, child marriage and mental health risks.

The report Taking from the Hungry to Feed the Starving, is released today on World Refugee Day (June 20) and exposes the true cost of food ration cuts.

It surveys more than 900 refugees and vulnerable people in six countries affected by ration cuts and reveals not only increased levels of hunger and malnutrition, but also a rise in mental health risks, along with increases in child trafficking and abuse.

The World Food Programme and other aid agencies, like World Vision which distribute food aid, have had to make cuts to rations due to dramatic funding shortfalls.

Rations have been severely cut since September 2023 due to funding shortages to the World Food Programme which has seen investment decline by $5.6 billion since last year.

World Vision New Zealand National Director, Grant Bayldon, says New Zealand alone has reduced its contribution to emergency food aid by more than $5.5 million this year compared with last year.

“The New Zealand Government often makes isolated, short-term financial commitments to address what are protracted food crises. A small one-off contribution to emergency food aid for countries like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, simply does not cut it.

“We need the New Zealand government, and others worldwide, to commit to a long-term and comprehensive funding plan to truly help children and families in countries suffering forgotten hunger crises,” he says.

World Vision is calling on the Government to increase its contribution to emergency food aid, globally, as well as in Gaza specifically, and to increase its overall Overseas Development Assistance to help fund programmes that support communities develop sustainable food production.

Bayldon says one of the most concerning aspects of the report is the increased risks for children beyond just hunger and malnutrition.

The survey found alarming increases in the risk of child marriage, sexual violence, child labour, and child trafficking, with 41% of refugees reporting both girls and boys are now subject to more violence, neglect, or abuse.

Almost a third (30%) of parents thought that the ration cuts were pushing girls into child marriage. This rose to 97% for parents in Afghanistan. While in the Ugandan refugee settlement of Bidi Bidi, three-quarters of families report underage girls are getting pregnant and being forced to leave school.

“Hunger will always impact children the most and it’s not just their physical health. We are hearing from children themselves that they are suffering not only physically but in the long-term because they can no longer go to school or worse are being trafficked or married off.

“The hunger crisis is affecting kids like Amir, a 13-year-old boy in Afghanistan, who can no longer go to school and has to work full-time as a shepherd in order to earn money so he and his family can eat,” Bayldon says.

The impact on adults is also dire, with more than one in ten (13%) saying they feel so hopeless that they no longer want to carry on living. Half of adults said they felt that way most or some of the time.

In Afghanistan, parents' answers seem to indicate that almost all adults (97%) are at risk of mental health disorders, more than four times the prevalence for other conflict-affected populations; levels were also four times higher in Lebanon (89%); and more than three times in Bidi Bidi (79%).

“Hunger isn’t just killing people through malnutrition, but also through mental illness. We are hearing heartbreaking stories of parents on the verge of suicide because they simply cannot afford to feed their children. It is traumatic,” Baydon says.

“No one should be going hungry in the 21st century. World leaders must urgently accelerate efforts to resolve conflicts, tackle climate change, and provide hungry children and families with the humanitarian support they need,” he says.

World Vision and the World Food Programme have partnered together for more than 30 years to provide life-saving food assistance to those who most need this. In 2023, World Vision provided more than 20 million people in 46 countries with food and cash assistance. This included more than 16 million people in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme.

To help provide emergency food to those who need it most, please donate now.