More Bad News For Syrian Refugees


Back in September, the UN’s World Food Program warned that it was running out of money to feed the millions of Syrians both inside and outside the country who now rely on the agency for food. The warning was not heeded, pledged cash never turned up, and sure enough, the WFP announced yesterday that it was suspending a food voucher program that provides badly needed assistance to some 1.7 million Syrian refugees:

Under this programme, poor Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt have used vouchers to buy food in local shops. Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating.

“A suspension of WFP food assistance will endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighbouring host countries,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, in an appeal to donors. … Cousin said that WFP’s Syria emergency operations are now in critical need of funding.  Many donor commitments remain unfulfilled. WFP requires a total of US $64 million immediately to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries during the month of December.

Exactly which donor countries are skirting their commitments to the WFP is not entirely clear:

While WFP didn’t name which countries haven’t made good on their commitments, foreign ministers from Germany, Finland and Sweden told reporters in Copenhagen their countries could do more to fill the funding gap. “We have to strengthen our engagement and give humanitarian aid for the refugees and strengthen the structure of those countries who are hosting the refugees,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. … The United States, which has stumped up more than $3 billion for the Syrian people including some $935 million for the WFP since the start of the conflict, also voiced concern.

For refugees in Jordan the injury is compounded by the government’s announcement that it can no longer afford to provide free healthcare for Syrians. Worse still, Howard LaFranchi adds, Syria isn’t the only place where food aid agencies are being forced to cut corners:

Already last month, the [WFP] said that low supplies were forcing it to cut food rations for the half-million refugees from South Sudan and Somalia it feeds in camps in Kenya. Conflict in the Central African Republic and recent devastating floods in Somalia – which is barely recovering from decades of war – have left millions more with precarious food sources. In West Africa, the Ebola crisis is discouraging farmers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone from tending fields and getting produce to markets. More than a million West Africans could soon face food shortages, humanitarian groups working there say.

The prospect of burgeoning food assistance needs is leading international governmental organizations like WFP to issue urgent calls for emergency funding, while non-governmental organizations are revising upward their prognostications for emergency assistance needs next year. As one example, the International Red Cross announced last week that in order to meet “vastly expanding needs” that in some cases are due to “new kinds of crises,” it has set a goal of raising nearly $1.7 billion for emergency assistance in 2015 – a full quarter more than what it sought to raise from donors for 2014.

Murtaza Hussain is furious that the US and our allies are spending millions of dollars a day dropping bombs on ISIS while aid programs fall short:

“Humanitarian intervention” in this context has come to be nothing more than a crude euphemism for the act of bombing. A far more impactful, less morally ambiguous, and incredibly cheaper form of “intervening” would be to provide desperately needed aid to a displaced civilian population facing a true humanitarian emergency. Instead, political and military figures continue to expend huge sums on munitions and military logistics based on the disingenuous claim that they are “helping” the population which is being bombed. Needless to say, if this intervention had anything to do with helping Syrians its overwhelming priority would be providing aid to refugees, and most crucially providing them asylum as well. But on both these counts, the United States and its coalition have been doing poorly.

(Photo: A Syrian refugee woman sells napkins with a disabled relative as she sits on the sidewalk in downtown Beirut on December 2, 2014. Aid workers fear a major humanitarian crisis for millions of Syrian refugees in the Middle East after funding gaps forced the United Nations to cut food assistance for 1.7 million people. The UN’s World Food Programme said it needed $64 million (51 million euros) to fund its food voucher programme for December alone, and that “many donor commitments remain unfulfilled”. By Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)