Budget Cuts Impact Humanitarian Services
Volume 1, Issue 2 / January 2009
Major budget cuts in January 2009 affected all sectors of humanitarian services in Kakuma Camp. KANERE reporters surveyed the practical consequences of budget cuts and examined their impact in human terms. Can minimum rights protections still be guaranteed under the slimmer system?
The 2009 budget cuts represent the latest in a recent trend. Since 2006, humanitarian services in the camp have gradually been reduced. This trend has been attributed to donor fatigue, UNHCR budget plans, and a diminishing camp population.
Over 36,000 refugees have repatriated to Southern Sudan since December 2005, and others have been resettled to third countries. In April of 2006, Kakuma Camp hosted a population of 94,121 refugees, according to UNHCR figures. By January 2009, that figure has shrunk to 51,143 refugees.
“When we talk of budget cuts, it’s important to know why budget cuts are occurring and who is really affected by it,” says a senior IRC official. NGOs consider the general camp population in their budget plans, he explains, so services are reduced as the Sudanese repatriate.
But some refugees feel that reductions in services will affect the entire camp population. “Not only Sudanese are to be cut from the budget, but all nationalities are victims,” one Sudanese refugee says.
Should a smaller refugee population translate directly into budget cuts? While the population of Kakuma Refugee Camp decreased by about16% over 2008 (from 60,578 in January 2008 to 51,143 in January 2009, according to UNHCR figures), the budget cuts from 2008 to 2009 have gone far deeper.
In some sectors, service provisions have been slashed nearly in half. But many services require a baseline operating capacity to meet the minimum threshold of refugee needs.
The LWF Community Services Unit provides a network of social work through monitoring and follow-up of individual refugee cases. Under this umbrella, four separate units operate on the ground: Peace-Building Unit, Gender Unit, Youth and Sports Unit, and Child Development Unit.
2009 budget cuts have dramatically reduced the number of community services staff operating on the ground. In Peace Unit, 8 of 20 staffs were cut; 8 of 22 in Gender Unit; 21 of 42 in Youth and Sports; and no staffs in Child Unit. In total, the first three community service units lost 44% of their staff on the ground.
Peace-building, Gender, and Child caseworkers are critical to successful rights protection on the ground. They attend to all cases brought to them from the community and follow-up with individual investigations before issuing reports.
In addition, caseworkers attend weekly Field Post meetings to represent their clients, and discuss their progress at weekly case conferences. They make recommendations to the LWF Community Services office on how to proceed on any individual case.
Even before the budget cuts, Peace Building caseworkers were strained to cover all their cases. Now, remaining caseworkers face an even heavier workload. Peace building caseworkers deal with all cases arising from personal insecurity, domestic violence, ethnic conflict, and community problems such as water-tap sharing.
The logistics of camp coverage are grim—there are now eight Peace Building caseworkers to attend to all insecurity cases arising from a camp population of 51,143 refugees. For example, one Peace Building caseworker was covering four separate communities and receiving about 10 cases per week at the end of 2008. Now, he covers five communities and receives about 15 cases per week.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to manage” the new caseload, he reports.
A Peace Building caseworker reports that services for some communities “have been paralyzed” due to staff losses. Throughout January, caseworkers report, refugees have approached field post with urgent claims. Yet caseworkers are unable to follow-up on all the cases presented. As a result, many cases remain pending without follow-up or feedback.
With so many caseworkers gone, it is unclear whether Community Services Unit will be able to continue successful individual case monitoring and follow-up in 2009. “We need more staff, because the population is so large and the caseworkers are so few. It is very true that we are stretched—many cases will remain pending,” reports one caseworker.
When contacted by KANERE, the LWF Community Services Officer declined to comment, citing organizational policy.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is popular among refugees for its quality health care services. However, recent budget cuts have impacted IRC medical service provision.
Until 2007, IRC had four clinics and one main hospital operating in the camp to provide in- and out-patient services. In 2008, one clinic was closed, and again in January 2009 another clinic closed. Two clinics remain to cater for the entire refugee and local population.
Many refugees are now forced to walk long distances to receive medical assistance, and some refugees report overcrowding and long waits.
Refugees say they are very anxious about what will happen next. A young refugee boy says, “Sometimes we decide to stay at home while we are sick, because when we go to the main hospital the crowd is discouraging. If the sickness develops, that is when we decide to visit the hospital because there is no other alternative.”
Camp residents feared that IRC would continue to close other clinics. “I was really shocked when I heard rumors that even Clinic Four would be closed,” said one Ethiopian resident. Clinic Four serves Zone 5, the camp’s most populated area and composed of many nationalities. “But,” he continued, “I am happy that Clinic Four was preserved.”
Despite these fears, a senior IRC official believes that IRC is still providing essential medical services. “In terms of services, we still provide quality service as we did before,” he says.
He assures that clinics were only closed in less densely populated areas. “The closing of Clinic Two does not mean these people do not get our services. They still have two options: going to Clinic Five or to Main Hospital. But they may pay a bit [in terms] of distance to walk.”
But walking distance is a problem for some vulnerable refugees. One Sudanese refugee and widowed mother of six says, “We feel our service is ignored. Disabled persons, old age, and children especially when they are sick, cannot travel up to the Main Hospital to seek treatment.”
She added that pregnant mothers are very concerned about going for the usual Ante-Natal Clinic (ANC) visits due to the long trek to Clinic Five. The senior IRC official also expressed his concern for pregnant mothers attending ANC visits: “They have only one option of going to Clinic Five, as there is no ANC Service in IRC Main Hospital.”
Reductions in medical services may encourage vulnerable refugees and host community members to use alternative means of treatment. There is a fear that sellers of illegal imitation drugs will take advantage of the shortage of medical services to sell refugees fake drugs, which may cause major medical problems.
Recent changes have also contributed to a greater workload for medical personnel. “We used to treat 20-25 patients at night as emergency cases, but now the number has increased to 30-40 every night,” reports one night shift medical assistant.
“Realistically, the people who are affected by the budget cuts are our staffs. We miss the number of skilled staff due to cuts,” says the senior IRC official.
Budget cuts have reduced educational opportunities in Kakuma Camp. LWF Education Department manages three units: preschools, primary schools, and secondary schools. Since 2006, educational services have been reduced in each unit.
In 2006, LWF was managing seven pre-schools with an enrollment of 5,524 learners with174 teachers and staff. Since 2007, the pre-school program has phased out its activities for 3, 4, and 5 year-old children. Currently, the unit serves only 6-year old children in six schools, reaching an enrollment of 977 learners with 82 teachers and staff.
The LWF Primary Unit in 2006 was managing 24 primary schools, 3 young women’s education (YWE) centres, and one non-formal education (NFE) centre. The unit had an enrollment of 23,674 learners (of which 7,112 were girls), and 645 teachers and staff. Currently, the unit has reduced the number of schools and staffs to 10 primary schools with an enrollment of 6,776 pupils, and 263 teachers and staff. Both Young Women’s Education and Non-Formal Education centres have been phased out.
Secondary education has also faced major reductions. In 2006, LWF was managing 4 secondary schools with an enrollment of 2,703 students (of which 317 were girls). The unit had 134 teachers and staff. Currently, the unit is functioning with only one secondary school reaching an enrollment of 206 students (of which 35 are girls), run by 36 teachers and staff.
Today, educational services in Kakuma Camp reach 25% the number of youth they reached in 2006. In comparison, the total camp population today is 54% the number of refugees it was in April 2006. Educational facilities have been reduced by 49% since 2006, and 40% of teachers and staff are now gone.
The disproportionate reduction in learners is largely due to the UNHCR policy of “scaling down” education for Sudanese youth in the camp. The Tripartite Agreement to guide the repatriation of Southern Sudanese provided that Sudanese children would no longer be enrolled in preschool, class one of primary school, or form one of secondary school.
The End of Adult Education?
Since 1994, Adult Education has offered courses in adult literacy, special needs education, capacity building/ business management trainings, and women’s education promotion. Now in 2009, budget cuts have forced IRC to discontinue their implementation of this program.
Special needs education was transferred to LWF, but the remaining Adult Education programs are still in limbo. The programs were to be handed over to Windle Trust of Kenya, but the NGO currently has no budget for these programs. It is unclear when or whether the programs will resume.
Adult Education in Kakuma Refugee Camp provides a basis for development and a foundation for the self-reliance of societies. It began with the vision of eradicating illiteracy in the camp and in the host community. The program was a process of providing knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes for those who underwent non-formal education.
The history of adult education in Kakuma goes back to 1994. Jarso Kida, former Adult Program Counterpart Manager, now in the U.K., told KANERE that the program was started under the shade of trees by a few refugee volunteers. Eventually, an LWF donor took it on and began to pay teacher incentives. Over the years, the program underwent various changes in name and structure. Finally in 2001, the program was brought under IRC and renamed Adult and Special Needs Education.
A 2007 report revealed that the achievements of Adult Education were beyond expectations. The program reached about 2,000 adult learners annually, including beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners. 2,133 persons attended trainings annually, including business management, teacher induction, and special needs education trainings. A grand total of 4,133 persons, both refugees and locals, benefited from these trainings in 2007.
Adult Education enabled learners to achieve self-reliance and coordinate community-based solutions. Individuals were equipped with skills to run businesses successfully—one staff member recalls that camp business was booming after business management trainings began in 1996. After completing the program, many adults were able to continue their secondary school education, and others gained English language skills enabling them to take jobs as hospital assistants, security guards, and even teachers.
Now in January 2009, learners are flooding into the adult-learning centers to find no teachers. Only security guards remain. Learners expressed their concern. Will other options be provided by the UNHCR Community Services office, or will adult education simply be forgotten?
An IRC Security staff at Adult Centre Five reported that about 300 male and female adult learners have been coming every morning to the centre. He says that when he told them to go, the learners responded, “We are waiting for the teachers.”
These rejected learners were the same people who sang, “Education is light,” and “Education is the key to life,” in international adult-day celebrations on 8 September 2008.
When the KANERE reporter was taking these notes, two ladies from the Ethiopian refugee community came seeking lessons. They mistakenly thought the reporter was a teacher but were shocked to discover that no teachers were present. “We saw light and it is taken away, now we are in the dark. What is our fate?” the women asked.
The women reported that they had spoken to their community leaders, who informed them that UNHCR had said to be patient. They continued to express their disappointment: “UNHCR is our father. Father will not leave us like this, when we are denied an education.”
The learners are hoping for a positive resolution to this educational impasse. It is true that hope is a powerful force. When there is hope, there are possibilities. Although IRC could have found the means of mitigating this scenario before it happened, the UNHCR still has the power to find a solution. In the words of hopeful learners, “The fate will be bright!”
Unemployment Affects Refugee Well-Being
The announcement of budget cuts was shocking to refugee staff members who know that budget cuts augur a bankrupt situation—impacting not only economic well-being, but also social and personal well-being.
Working people earn social status from their occupational positions. Refugee NGO staffs work as doctors, nurses, caseworkers, and teachers, among other professions. These titles will be lost as budget cuts erode personal dignities, leaving former staffs to join the ranks of “the jobless.”
A Somali refugee, A.M., who recently lost his teaching job as a result of budget cuts, says the cuts were “shocking.” He summarizes the effect of budget cuts on his personal well-being: “It affected me in four ways: economically, socially, psychologically, and academically.”
“Economically, I am now broke,” declares A.M. “I can’t cater for my needs. I can’t borrow something costly so long as I am unemployed.” The job loss has “disconnected the relationship between me and my family” due to severe economic pressures.
Household breadwinners will be deeply affected by budget cuts. Former breadwinners will not be able to perform their traditional family duties, and some fear for the financial security of their families.
Refugee businesses and entrepreneurship will also suffer in the face of budget cuts, as money flows that entered the community in the form of incentive payments will disappear.
A.M. continues, “Socially, the job title which was given me to earn respect vanished. I missed a lot of friends I made in the field. I also lost a lot of clients I used to meet at work.”
In the field, staffs meet different people whom they agree to work with on a friendly basis. Staffs are drawn from diverse social backgrounds, tribes, clans and nationalities. Some were even enemies while in their homeland, yet were brought together to work in the same field cooperatively as NGO staffs. These developing networks of inter-cultural ties may be disrupted due to the loss of staff members.
“Psychologically, I am frustrated and don’t know what to do,” continues A.M. “Getting a new job is difficult and there is high competition. Loneliness may force me to join bad groups or drag me into unnecessary behaviors.”
The psychological effects of joblessness and bankruptcy are unsettling. Yesterday one may have carried the honorable title of “staff,” while today one is insulted with the title of “jobless.” This abrupt change in personal status may lead to emotional stigma and negative thoughts.
A.M. elaborates, “Academically, I may lose my work skills and experience, [due to] loss of training offered to staffs.” Social and community development is boosted by personal advancement programs offered by NGOs, including job trainings, health, and education seminars. Now these opportunities are lost to many former staffs.
A.M.’s personal experience illustrates the current atmosphere among the newly unemployed in Kakuma Camp. Refugee unemployment as a result of budget cuts may affect the community in many ways.
For refugees and locals who rely on social services provided by humanitarian organizations, the January 2009 budget cuts are worrying. Essential humanitarian services and education programs enriched the community with a range of positive outcomes in previous years. Now, refugees and locals fear that these achievements will begin to disappear as jobs and opportunities are lost.
Primary and secondary education is now out of reach for many youth who would wish to continue their education. The community services network of case monitoring for vulnerable and at-risk refugees is now stretched thin. Medical care facilities have lost many skilled staff and may not be able to accommodate the needs of all their patients. And the Adult Education program which enabled so many refugees to achieve self-reliance and community-based solutions is now phased out.
For refugees and locals, these gaps in services are a sign of missed opportunities and unmet needs.
But there is hope for the future. The relocation of 50,000 Somali refugees from Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya may allow for many services to be renewed, and even expanded. A senior IRC official reports that IRC expects to re-open the closed clinics, and he hopes many skilled staffs may re-join IRC as services are renewed. In confirmation of this hope, some incentive workers have already been called back to work.
In the meantime, refugees and locals wait to see what will happen next.