This week, the World Food Program (WFP) – the food aid branch of the United Nations – announced the suspension of a voucher program that was providing food to 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. With winter fast approaching across the region, the closure of the program will render tens of thousands of refugees incredibly vulnerable. A New York Times article quotes Ertharin Cousin, the WFP’s executive director: “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 neighboring host countries. The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families.”
This drastic cut results from a budget crisis precipitated by unfulfilled donor commitments. “It is because the money is not coming in,” John Ging, director of operations at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Reuters. “This is devastating news for people who are aid-dependent.” The WFP is $64 million short of being able to run the voucher program in December. Were this figure to be met by the WFP’s donor countries, and the deficit eliminated, the program could be resumed through the end of the annual year. Beyond 2014, it remains unclear how the WFP will fund the program. “WFP’s food assistance is obviously central to the overall humanitarian effort for Syrian refugees,” noted António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a UNHCR article. “It must be funded.”
Indeed, food aid is one of the most critical forms of support for Syrian refugees. As noted in an article in Al Jazeera, it becomes even more essential during the colder months. As winter sets in, the cost of living will rise with the need for warmer clothes and gas for heating, while many of the most accessible work opportunities for refugees, such as seasonal agricultural work, will dwindle. Our field staff in the region anticipate that, over the days and weeks ahead, IRAP will see a notable rise in the number of clients approaching the organization for critical assistance.