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As Drought Looms, WFP Cuts Food Aid for Lack of Funds

Despite a January conference that raised more than $2.3 billion in pledges, Syria’s international donors are stalling and the U.N. has been forced to reduce the amount of food in its family parcels by 20 percent. Now, a drought is poised to hit some of the country’s hardest-hit areas.

Written by Karen Leigh Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes

This week, the U.N.’s World Food Programme said it has been forced to cut its food parcel deliveries to families inside Syria by 20 percent as it faces a shortage of donor funds. At the U.N.’s donor conference in Kuwait in January, countries pledged $2.3 billion for agencies helping in Syria, but officials say they have only received $1.1 billion thus far.

The WFP says its distribution is also impacted by delays in purchasing the food and preparing it for delivery into active hot zones. On Tuesday, its officials also warned of a looming drought that could affect wheat production in the northwest, the country’s breadbasket, to just 1.7 metric tons.

Abeer Etefa, the WFP’s regional spokeswoman, has been traveling in and out of Syria since the beginning of the conflict. Here, she explains the financial hurdles currently facing the organization.

Here is the situation: WFP has scaled up to reach 4.25 million people inside Syria and close to 3 million refugees in neighboring countries at the same time. The overall cost in 2014 was close to $2 billion. The operation is going in an unprecedented way: the needs are getting bigger and increasing every day whether inside Syria or for refugees, and it costs WFP $41 million a week to run the operation.

The pattern of our Syria funding, from the beginning, is hand to mouth. We never have the luxury of getting money that will let us run for the next three months. When you get delayed contributions from donor countries, then you don’t have enough lead time to procure food quickly and get it into Syria.

To assist refugees, that’s less of a problem because we use vouchers. As soon as we get confirmation of the contribution, the money is in the bank, into vouchers, and the refugees can go to the store and can spend it on the food they want.

This is more a problem with the operation inside Syria, because we need at least, in the best case scenario, six weeks, and in the worst, 12 weeks, from the time when we get the money to buy the food on international market, get the best rates and then bring it to Lebanon or the port of Tartous and get it logistically ready to give to over 4 million people inside Syria.

Our donors have been extremely generous, but this year we’re starting slow. The delayed funding means we don’t have enough time to send food inside Syria. So in March we had to reduce the contents of the baskets for individual families by 20 percent. Some items were missing because we didn’t have the donations. Sometimes they received their food in smaller quantities. It’s April, and we still have this issue, so this month we’re giving people their food baskets 16 percent lighter.

This week we received generous contributions. Kuwait gave $35 million yesterday, and last week we had 51 percent from the UAE. Our traditional donors, like the US and the European Union, Japan, Canada and Australia, are continuing to give. It’s a crisis of global magnitude that requires a global response, but the traditional donors have taken on a heavy burden in this crisis, and we’re going to wear them out really soon. We’d like non-traditional donors, those not used to giving multilaterally to the U.N., to step up and donate.

The two Gulf donations will get the baskets back to 100 percent, but just for some time, so it’s still hand to mouth. We need constant donations. These will help us for one month but we’ll need something for the month to follow.

We need to raise $306 million from April to June. Late funding confirmations of mean food does not arrive in Syria for a while. It takes two to three months from when food is purchased to when it arrives for distribution. So funds that come in today will not be reflected in rations until June. What we received over the last two weeks won’t be reflected until the June distribution.

Overall, we’ve had more contributions from the Gulf and Arab world, but we hope countries give more and make sure we’re covering the basic needs of people. It’s been quite difficult for us to ensure that we’re meeting their needs when we can’t plan for next month because we don’t have the resources.

In March, we had record distribution numbers. We reached more than 4 million in Syria for the first time. Now that the access issue is improving in parts of the country, we hope that we have the resources to properly help the people who have been cut off from supplies for so long.

Today we published a report about a drought that could further impact the situation. Since September rainfall has lowered. It could have have an impact on the next Syrian harvest. We’re especially worried about areas that have already been hit hard, like the governorates of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa and Hassakeh. These already have their fair share of misery in terms of access to food and now we have a potential drought.

There are only a few weeks left in the rainy season. Areas of Syria had a drought for five long years before the conflict began, and they only had a year to recover from it before the crisis hit them.

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