UN suspends food aid for 1.7m Syrian refugees

UN suspends food aid for 1.7m Syrian refugees
2 min read
01 December, 2014
Funding crisis forces World Food Programme to shelve voucher system that helped feed hundreds of thousands of families forced to flee civil war.
1.8m Syrians depended on the WFP programme [Getty]

Nearly two million Syrian refugees are facing a winter food crisis after the World Food Programme suspended its aid scheme today due to a lack of funds. 

The announcement on Monday leaves an estimated 1.7 million people in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt facing disaster as freezing weather approaches.

The agency's executive director, Ertharin Cousin, said it needed $64m to cover emergency operations in December alone.

"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," she said.

"The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families."

Lebanon at risk

The agency said the suspension could be particularly devastating in Lebanon, where there are no formal camps for the 1.1 million Syrians living there. Most refugees live in makeshift settlements, sheds, garages and unfinished buildings and rely on the WFP for their food.

The WFP scheme enabled refugees, most of whom are unemployed, to buy food from local shops through an electronic voucher system. The agency estimated its scheme had poured $800m into local economies.

     This couldn't come at a worse time. Winter is already an extremely difficult period for Syrian refugees.

The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, called for urgent international support to restart the programme.

"This couldn't come at a worse time," said UN's high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres. "Winter is already an extremely difficult period for Syrian refugees, but the suspension of food assistance at this critical juncture is going to be devastating. I urgently appeal to the international community - support WFP now, don't let refugees go hungry."

Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported last week that Syrian refugees in Lebanon were facing the country's harsh winter without the barest of necessities.

"We escaped the misery of war, and replaced it with the misery of homelessness and forced displacement in a strange and unsafe country," said one woman living in a temporary camp in the Bekaa Valley.

"In the winter we look for plastic bags to plug the holes in our tent. We have to stop the rain breaking through the wooden walls of our small room."

Cousin said in her appeal for cash that refugees were ill-prepared for the coming months, with tents already damaged by the weather, poor hygiene, and thousands of children lacking sufficient clothing.