Drastic cuts in foreign aid are putting millions of refugees fleeing war and drought in East Africa at risk of malnutrition and diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery and cholera, aid agencies warned on Monday.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said donor funding to Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania - which host over 2 million refugees from neighboring nations - has dropped by over 60 percent compared to the previous year.
The lack of funds has meant that conditions in many refugee camps across the three nations are deteriorating - with less food, clean water and sanitation available for refugees.
"Fast and furious budget cuts are hitting the East Africa aid sector hard. If more funding isn't found, malnutrition will rise, schools will close, and water-borne diseases will break out," the NRC's Regional Director Nigel Tricks said in a statement.
"Rich nations should step up to support countries that are still accepting refugees. We have a window to avoid a refugee catastrophe in East Africa if we act now."
There are at least 22 million refugees around the world, says the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR), mostly fleeing conflict, persecution or rights abuses in their countries.
About 85 percent of refugees are hosted in developing countries in Africa and the Middle East - most of which do not have the resources to support the hundreds of thousands fleeing wars in nations such as South Sudan, Somalia and Syria.
But funding from western donors to support these refugees has dramatically decreased. In Kenya, for example, the U.N. has only raised $97 million to support about 500,000 refugees this year - down 70 percent from the $340 million received in 2017.
Dana Hughes, UNHCR's East Africa spokesperson, said the "chronic levels of underfunding" were resulting in overcrowded classrooms, families going without food and risks of disease outbreaks due to a lack of water and poor sanitation.
Projects to help refugees become self-reliant and earn an income are either being cut or are in jeopardy, she added.
"Despite the outcry on refugee arrivals in Europe and other wealthier parts of the world, the reality is most live in developing countries," Hughes told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are at the frontline of the global refugee crises and ensuring programs to help refugees and bolster services in the countries receiving them is a global responsibility."