The extraordinary challenges posed by the Syrian civil war and the hundreds of thousands of people it has displaced means that the aid response is different than other emergencies. The World Food Programme and United States government, to a limited extent, have turned to alternative ways to distribute food aid. Namely, they are handing out food and cash vouchers to people instead of bags of rice.
CARE’s Helene D. Gayle and Oxfam’s Raymond C. Offenheiser say that this response should not be the exception, rather it should help establish the new rule. They make their case in the Christian Science Monitor for the United States to untie aid so that it is more flexible in emergency situations.
In crises, organizations like CARE USA and Oxfam America have learned that meeting humanitarian needs requires the flexibility to ensure good intentions result in positive outcomes. The United States is the largest donor for emergency food assistance in Syria. A substantial portion of that assistance has been provided through cash, vouchers, and by buying food locally and regionally through something called the Emergency Food Security Program.
Like what the US is doing in Syria:
Some agriculture and maritime interest groups have argued that there is no need to change the status quo. They say there is already an effective and dependable program in place for producing and shipping food. It is true that there is still a vital role for US commodities in places where food is not available or where local purchases won’t work. This is why, under Obama’s reforms, aid agencies will still be able to purchase commodities from US-based producers where and when it is appropriate.
But the US can do better. It needs a flexible response when addressing emergencies and chronic hunger. Its tools and programs must put first the needs of the farmers and hungry populations that America seeks to help.