U.N. comes up short, must cut food aid for Afghanistan and Syria

© WFP/PAM

The United Nations needs nearly twice as much money as it has on hand to feed people in Afghanistan and Syria. The U.N. will have to cut rations, affecting about 7.9 million people, the World Food Programme announced this week.

The WFP needs $8.5 billion for its global response, nearly double the $4.3 billion budget prediction from earlier this year. Much of that increase is attributed to the ever-worsening humanitarian problems caused by fighting in Syria.

While there is much need in both Syria and Afghanistan, the source of the hunger problems is different for the two countries.

Syria is engaged in a conflict that started in the wake of Arab Spring protests in March 2011. It was declared a civil war by the Red Cross a year later.  Humanitarian access in the country is extremely difficult and more than 3 million people fled as refugees. The countries hosting refugees, and international organizations and donors meant to help them, are struggling.

WFP says 4.2 million people still in Syria rely on its food aid, with another 2 million living outside the country also needing help. Some 85 percent of Syrian refugee families say that without the WFP vouchers, they do not have enough money to feed themselves on every day.

“In the early stages of an emergency operation, determining between those who are truly in need and those who are not is not feasible. As the crisis has continued, targeting of humanitarian assistance becomes essential and we have more information, which we have cross-checked in the field, to do so,” explained Jonathan Campbell, WFP’s Emergency Coordinator for the Syrian refugees Operation in Jordan.

Meeting the overall food need for Syrians will requires WFP to raise $35 million a week.

Ration cuts are already under way, said Assistant Executive Director Elisabeth Rasmusson to Agence France-Presse. “We decided that because of the funding shortfall, we will provide food to everybody but its cut down to 60 percent of the normal (food) basket,” she said.

Meanwhile, the story of Afghanistan is of a country that once garnered an inordinate amount of international attention and is seeing support drop with the departure of every soldier. The contrast with Syria’s situation is stark; the WFP gap is only $30 million in Afghanistan. And yet, but people are still seeing cuts to their food aid.

Roughly 1 million in people Afghanistan have had their food rations cut from 2,100 calories a day to 1,500. All because the WFP in Afghanistan is short $30 million – as much money as Kobe Bryant makes in a year.

“We have had to cut down the rations of the people we are assisting, just so that we can buy some time so we don’t stop altogether,” said WFP’s Afghanistan Country Director Claude Jibidar, to Reuters.

The cuts in aid hit with winter nearing, posing additional problems for people already displaced or living on the edge.

Rasmusson said WFP and U.N. officials are working day and night to contact donor countries and private sector because “we do not want to stop providing food to the Syrians,” Agence France-Presse reported.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.