Overwhelming international support saves Syrian food aid

Credit: IHH

The World Food Programme is back to regular business for Syrians. A week after a $64 million shortfall forced the U.N. agency to stop providing food aid, some 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt are once again receiving essential support.

News of the shutdown and a rapid fund-raising drive brought in $80 million for the World Food Programme, WFP. The organization credits its #ADollarALifeline social media campaign, which raised $1.8 million from 14,000 individual donors living in 158 countries, as a catalyst for larger contributions. By exceeding its goal, WFP says that some money will carry over for its work in January.

The bottom line is refugees will once again receive about $30 in electronic food vouchers per person.

“This outpouring of support in such a short time is unprecedented,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, in a statement. “We’re especially grateful to the many individual members of the public who reached into their own pockets to send whatever they could to help Syrian refugees who have lost everything. They showed that even as little as a dollar can make a difference.”

The Dec. 1 announcement by WFP immediately caused problems for Syrian refugees. The Associated Press reported the day after the announcement that refugees living in Lebanon “panicked over the announcement. Interviewed refugees described how the electronic vouchers were vital to getting by in such difficult circumstances.”

“If the U.N. stops helping me, I don’t know what will happen to me,” said a refugee who asked to be identified by her first name Aisha out of fear of retaliation, to the AP. “I get my food and everything through the U.N.”

The resumption of food aid to refugees brings relief to people like Aisha. With winter arriving, refugees who are already struggling are faced with new challenges. Additionally, the host countries that share a border with Syria are struggling to keep up with the 3 million Syrian refugees.

Yesterday, the U.N. announced that 28 member states would take in 100,000 Syrian refugees from the five host countries. The U.N. Refugee Agency hopes that non-neighboring countries will step up and eventually take in 10 percent of all Syrian refugees.

“I think it is an excellent interim result, but I will only be happy when all the Syrians that would in a justified way or should be resettled, have a resettlement opportunity,” U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said.

Financial aid from donor countries helps to some extent, but the money is still hard to come by and the needs keep growing. The U.N. launched a $16.4 billion humanitarian appeal for 2015 on Monday. Syria alone accounts for $7.2 billion of the need with 18.2 million people affected. The record high appeal will be hard to meet and this year’s cycle of funding shortage warnings is likely to repeat itself in 2015.

“Without more support, there simply is no way to respond to the humanitarian situations we’re seeing in region after region and in conflict after conflict,” said U.N. humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos.

“We will continue to put people at the center of our relief efforts and do everything we can to respond quickly and effectively, but the rising scale of need is outpacing our capacity to respond.”

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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.