Parents and cooks around the world constantly battle with this question every day. But imagine how difficult it would be to plan family meals if you had little control over the ingredients you could use and were unsure about the quantity of food available to you?
Many of the 108,000 Bhutanese refugees living in camps in Nepal face this challenge. Under their refugee status, they are not allowed to work outside of the camps or to own land, leaving them completely dependent upon humanitarian food aid distributed by the UN World Food Programme.
Through the support of donors like the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department, WFP has been providing food aid to the refugees for over 16 years. Throughout this period, various campaigns to ensure that the Bhutanese refugees are aware of their ration entitlements have been conducted. Boards advertising ration entitlements are located at each food distribution center, yet many Bhutanese refugees still do not know the amount of rice, oil, pulses, wheat-soya-blend, salt and sugar that they are entitled to receive.
The WFP and the European Commission were concerned about how few refugees knew their ration entitlement and distributed ration entitlement cards to each refugee household across the seven camps last year. But, WFP and the Commission wanted to do more, so the “Know your ration” campaign was launched this year.
Under the campaign, WFP staff randomly asked refugees if they knew how much food they were entitled to receive during food distributions. If answered correctly, they received a t-shirt printed with the statement: “I know my ration entitlement” and an image of the ration entitlement card.
Nearly 700, “I know my ration” t-shirts were distributed throughout the seven refugee camps during the campaign. WFP staff made a strong effort to ensure that participants were evenly distributed across age groups, gender and sub-sectors within the camps. WFP staff also used the opportunity to talk about the support provided by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department.
“I think this campaign was not only a tremendous success, but a lot of fun for all involved. Clothing is no longer provided to the Bhutanese refugees from aid agencies due to lack of funding, so the distribution of free t-shirts was a huge draw for the refugees. This enabled us to educate large groups of people on the importance of knowing their rations while distributing the t-shirts,” stated Abiola Akanni, WFP Head of Sub-Office in Damak.
Overall, the project was an innovative and practical way for the refugees to become more aware of how much food they should be receiving, and the t-shirts can be seen all over the camps.
“Now that people are wearing the t-shirts around the camps we will become more conscious about our food right with this type of programme,” explained Sita a refugee from Sanischare Camp.
“I never considered how important it was to make sure that I actually knew what my ration entitlement was. I think this campaign will make people more curious about their entitlements in general - which will be very important as we consider our future options,” added a refugee from Khudunabari Camp.
“With nearly 700 ‘walking billboards’ in the refugee camps - what’s for supper? - should be an easier question for the Bhutanese refugees to answer these days,” stated Sikha Thapa, WFP Field Monitor.
The European Commission remains strongly committed to the Bhutanese refugees who have been languishing in camps in Eastern Nepal and has contributed €13.4 million over the last six years to WFP’s efforts to support the Bhutanese refugees.
Even with the recent offers of third-country resettlement for the Bhutanese refugees, this issue largely remains a forgotten humanitarian crisis. The Commission hopes is to continue its partnership with WFP to ensure that humanitarian support continues until all refugees have been able to attain a lasting solution.
Regional Information Officer, South Asia