ROME: The World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) suspended food aid to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, blaming a financing crisis caused by unhonored cash pledges.
The Rome-based United Nations agency said refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt risked going hungry this winter if donors do not urgently provide the $64 million (51 million euros) needed to finance the distribution of food vouchers through December.
“This couldn’t come at a worse time,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “I urgently appeal to the international community—support WFP now, don’t let refugees go hungry,” he added.
While WFP didn’t name which countries haven’t made good on their commitments, foreign ministers from Germany, Finland and Sweden told reporters in Copenhagen their countries could do more to fill the funding gap.
“We have to strengthen our engagement and give humanitarian aid for the refugees and strengthen the structure of those countries who are hosting the refugees,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
WFP said the refugees affected by the suspension of food aid included many children in Lebanon and Jordan facing harsh winters without adequate clothing or footwear, and living in tents already caked in mud that has made hygiene precarious.
Most in peril are the tens of thousands of families that are entirely dependant on international food aid, Guterres added.
Distribution of electronic food vouchers is to resume as soon as the pledged cash comes in.
The United States, which has stumped up more than $3 billion for the Syrian people including some $935 million for the WFP since the start of the conflict, also voiced concern.
Washington was urging governments “to do more,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“Without additional contributions, the World Food Programme could be forced to reduce rations for Syrians throughout the region,” she warned.
WFP says it has fed millions of displaced people inside Syria and up to 1.8 million refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt in the three and a half years since the conflict erupted.
“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 neighbouring host countries,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.