U.N. Food Program Warns of Cuts to Its Relief Efforts
By SOMINI SENGUPTASEPT. 22, 2014
UNITED NATIONS — Just months after a United Nations Security Council resolution pressed Syria to open several of its border crossings to humanitarian aid convoys, money has dried up and allotments of grain and lentils are set to shrink significantly next month, the head of the World Food Program said Monday.
“We have increased access, but because of a lack of resources it’s going to force us to cut rations in October and again in November,” Ertharin Cousin, the head of the agency, said in an interview on the eve of an annual meeting of world leaders at the General Assembly. The ration packets for Syrians living inside the country will be cut by 40 percent, she said, and what they get is bound to be less nutritious.
The cuts are equally severe for Syrians who have fled the country. Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon will receive smaller food vouchers to use in local markets in October, and fewer than half of the 100,000 Syrian refugees who now get food aid in Egypt will be served. The agency faces a roughly $350 million shortfall in its programs for Syria by the end of the year.
The cuts mirror already drastic reductions in food aid for refugees worldwide. Funding shortfalls — combined with ballooning needs — have forced the agency to cut rations to displaced people in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ms. Cousin said the agency relies on donor funding, which she said had decreased across the board. (The one exception is a $500 million tranche from Saudi Arabia for aid to newly displaced Iraqis, including for food.)
Demand worldwide continues to grow with new crises. The rapid spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa stands to increase food needs sharply in the three worst affected countries. Ms. Cousin estimated that over the next three months, the World Food Program would have to feed an additional one million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, including those who lived in communities where markets had closed because of the outbreak.
The funding shortfall in Syria is particularly stark because efforts to reach needy people there were a pitched battle in the Security Council for months. The United Nations repeatedly raised the alarm about the millions of people who were beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies because the government in Damascus refused to let aid convoys into rebel-held areas. In July, the Council adopted a resolution that authorized aid convoys to cross into Syrian territory without prior approval by the authorities.
Only three of the four border crossings authorized by the Council measure have been used; the fourth, on the Iraq-Syria border, is impassable because of fighting nearby.
Still, since the resolution, Ms. Cousin said, access has widened significantly, with her agency poised to reach 4.3 million Syrians in September. The money has not kept pace.
In 2013, the World Food Program collected $4.4 billion to reach 80 million people, the vast majority of them women and children; about 13 million of those were civilians displaced in their own countries or abroad.