In more than 80 countries, the World Food Programme (WFP) supports 10 million refugees — by the end of 2019, persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or breakdowns of order, had forcibly displaced 79.5 million people, including 26 million who sought refuge abroad and up to 34 million children. This year, WFP aims to feed 100 million people across the world.
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Alina Kivuvu spends more and more time working her plot of land, growing fresh greens and vegetables. The 39-year-old is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who lives with her youngest daughter, aged 9, in the Lovua settlement in Angola’s Lunda Norte province — her three other children remained in DRC.
Alina started with a small kitchen garden and now hopes to build her own business. National travel restrictions imposed in Angola because of COVID-19 mean limited operating times for both informal and formal markets; Alina can no longer make it to the town of Dundo, some 100 km from Lovua, to sell her fresh produce.
With 6,000 people living in the Lovua settlement, sales are much lower than they would be in town — this can result in lost stock, for Alina. Lockdown feels like prison, she says: “Schools are closed, the children cannot play, and people cannot visit each other.”
Daughter Maria is in fifth grade and her favourite subject is mathematics, which comes in handy when calculating change for customers while helping out her mother.
Maria says she likes going to school so much, she fears not being able to attend will result in forgetting everything she’s learned — schools in Angola shut in March because of coronavirus. WFP estimates around 1.5 million children in Angola are now missing out on school meals because of the restrictions.
Women in Lovua settlement work hard to establish themselves within their community in the face of many challenges. When Alina arrived in Angola in 2017, immigration authorities had barred the registration of new refugees — this meant she was unable to receive food assistance.
She also was not initially assigned a residential plot, because only registered refugees have access to land. Nevertheless, she has shown strength and courage in persistently seeking dialogue with humanitarian workers and advocating for women such as herself to be granted access to life-saving assistance from WFP and UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency.
The organizations work to equip people with livelihood skills that will set them on the path to self-reliance.
Although Alina’s case still hasn’t been approved by the provincial immigration authorities for inclusion in UNHCR registration, she is currently a beneficiary of WFP under the Exceptional Ration Programme.
This programme allows WFP and UNHCR to extend some assistance to unregistered refugees who live in the settlement and are in states of extreme vulnerability, without access to any kind of assistance.
Arriving refugees are often unregistered, unaccompanied or separated children and elderly people at risk of malnutrition; they can be survivors of sexual violence, gender-based violence, single parents, adults with disabilities or severe medical conditions. Each individual case is carefully reviewed by WFP, UNHCR and World Vision, and, if approved, is included in the programme.
Since she began to receive WFP’s food assistance, Alina’s life has improved significantly.
Prior to receiving her monthly food ration, which includes yellow maize meal, pulses, vegetable oil and salt, she would cope by begging neighbours for some of these products so she could prepare meals for herself and her daughter.
Alina also benefitted from half an acre of land provided by UNHCR to vulnerable refugees interested in agriculture as a means of building resilience. When she had her first harvests, she sold or traded some of her produce with other refugees in exchange for maize meal. Now the money she gets can be used to buy other types of foods, clothes and other necessities.
Alina believes that if she had capital, she would be able to diversify her business and not suffer as much from the impact of COVID-19 on commercial activities in the settlement.
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In 2017, when WFP kicked off its presence here, many more refugees lived in Lovua — due to violent conflict in the greater Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 35,000 people had fled across the border into Angola’s Lunda Norte province. In 2019, amid the stabilization of the situation in DRC, over 15,500 of them returned to their home country. Many of those forced to stay on in Lovua rely solely on WFP food assistance to meet their basic food and nutrition needs.
So they are extremely vulnerable to shocks like COVID-19. There are currently close to 1,200 people who are interested in returning to DRC, but the repatriation programme started by UNHCR in October 2019 has been suspended and the cross-border movement is now restricted.
In May 2020, 6,192 individuals received food assistance from WFP in Angola.