1.7 million Syrian refugees facing ‘devastating’ food aid cuts


A Syrian refugee child peers out from his tent in Baiseriyeh in southern Lebanon, July 23, 2013. Al-Akhbar Marwan Bou Haidar
By Eva Shoufi | Al-Akhbar | December 3, 2014

This month Syrian refugees in four host countries, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan will not receive food assistance. The World Food Program (WFP) ran out of funding to help those affected by the Syrian crisis, meaning it can no longer help feed Syrian refugees. Given that donor countries are not providing more funding, refugees are left alone to face deadly cold weather and starvation with catastrophic humanitarian, social and health repercussions.

Suspending food aid to Syrian refugees adds to the tragedy they are already facing. Refugees worry about the rain leaking through their tents and they cannot imagine their conditions getting any worse. What is worse than displacement, homelessness, living in a tent and dying of cold weather?

On Monday, the World Food Program (WFP) announced that it does not have funding for the month of December. As a result, 1.7 million Syrian refugees in four countries – 1.1 million of them in Lebanon – will not receive food aid. Syrian refugees are now afraid they will die of the cold weather and of starvation.

By deciding to suspend funding to the WFP, is the international ‘donor’ community intent on multiplying the misery of Syrians, as if telling the refugees to “die of hunger?” Refugees could die of hunger because donor nations have donor fatigue. They have given a lot in the past three and a half years, and they gave generously. But it seems the message is that the crisis has lasted for too long and that it is not the fault of these generous donors.

According to the WFP’s statement, “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.”Tensions within refugee communities will rise. Striving to secure food is the fiercest, most primal struggle in life. Psychological and financial pressures will increase which will lead to dangerous behavior. The rate of crime, prostitution, begging, child labor, child marriages and diseases might increase. Faced with these dangerous phenomena, feelings of racism within host communities could grow and lead to a destructive path.

The WFP’s statement warned that refugees are “ill-prepared for yet another harsh winter, especially in Lebanon and Jordan, where many children are barefoot and without proper clothing. Many tents are drenched in mud and hygiene conditions are growing extremely precarious.”

Don’t they know that a few days ago, a newborn baby died of cold in Ersal? We learned of her death but we did not learn about the deaths that followed and we do not know if she is truly the first baby to die from the elements. Everyone, including international organizations, knew that babies will die from the cold because tents do not protect against the freezing cold of the hills and mountains. Despite these facts, they did nothing. News of the baby’s death passed without incident. They were too busy trying to find an excuse to justify her death. A problem at birth, lack of oxygen… It really doesn’t matter, the three-day old baby could not bear the freezing wind in the hills of Ersal. International organizations, fearing for the lives of their employees, deserted the town leaving behind children, women and men who cannot withstand the deadly cold or hunger.

Refugees received the unfortunate message on their cell phones. Those who do not have cell phones were informed by partner organizations that this month the accounts on their electronic vouchers will be zero dollars but they did not tell them what to do. The organizations themselves do not know what refugees should now do. WFP spokesperson, Sandy Maroun, said” “The program’s regional office distributes the funding. As we know, there is a big crisis in funding. We’ve been warning against it since October when funding for the program in Lebanon decreased by 33 percent. But we were surprised that there is no funding for this month.”

Children will go to sleep hungry in their cold tents, fathers will return with disappointment stamped on their brows while mothers will cry silently. Shop owners who have signed contracts with the WFP will be negatively impacted as well because their profits will decline. Refugees will not rush on the fifth of the month at 12:00 pm to buy bread, rice and grains. Many Lebanese will realize that the presence of refugees has had a positive economic impact and did not bring economic ruin, as is the common misperception. The Lebanese will experience this reality first-hand but they will not go hungry. The WFP said that $216 million were injected into the Lebanese economy in the past 10 months and $341 million since the beginning of the crisis through the Syrian refugees’ electronic vouchers.

No one knows if halting the funding will go on till next month. Maroun explains, “Funding is provided monthly that’s why we can’t say for sure if there is going to be money for next month except at the end of this month.”

“No organization can secure comprehensive and continuous food assistance to refugees like the WFP, which is considered the largest humanitarian organization in the world fighting hunger,” she added.

The program needs $64 million immediately to be able to provide food assistance to Syrian refugees residing in neighboring countries for the month of December. If funding is provided, the program will immediately resume its aid to refugees who use electronic vouchers. What will happen, however, if funding never materializes? Concerned parties cannot provide a definitive answer: “We hope they will be able to manage.” But hopes and wishes do not mean much. The international community is tired of paying to feed refugees. Donor countries prefer to spend the money on “civil society” and “democracy, transparency and citizenry” projects. Maroun explains: “Funding the program is voluntary and it involves countries, individuals and organizations. It is not based on mandatory and periodic funding even though it falls under the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) to respond to the Syrian humanitarian crisis but it is independent of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) funding.”What about UNHCR, the organization charged with “protecting” refugees”?

“We don’t have an alternative plan to provide food assistance,” says UNHCR spokesperson, Dana Suleiman, adding that “the crisis is the same for all organizations. They are all worried about the decline in funding. Besides, we play a coordinating role. For this month, there is no decrease or change in UNHCR programs but there are no guarantees for next month.” UNHCR’s last report talked about “food security” as nearly 900,000 refugees have benefited from the electronic voucher system in November. Today, all of these people are without food assistance. The only thing they have is blankets, a fuel voucher and a tent simply because the world does not have enough money to help them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *