Speeches

Statement to the UNHCR 64th Executive Committee - High Level Segment

Delivered on: 30 September 2013

Solidarity and Burden Sharing with Countries Hosting Syria Refugees 

Madam Chairperson,

Honorable Ministers,

Excellencies,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Food remains a foremost priority for the millions of Syrian families who have fled their homes to seek refuge, whether they remain inside Syria or in one of the neighboring countries.

The goal of WFP’s response is to meet the immediate needs of families, and particularly outside Syria, to build resilience where and if we can.  Within Syria, our target is to reach 3 million people this month and we are scaling up to reach 4 million by December.  Through our partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and 22 local NGOs, we provide family-food-rations to meet basic food needs.  We supply wheat-flour for bakeries.  And we support supplementary feeding for malnourished children.  WFP’s greatest strength is its flexibility to grasp every opportunity to access populations in need, wherever possible.  Where we can reach today, however, we may not be able to reach tomorrow.  Access is changing all the time.

The cross-line humanitarian challenges cannot be underestimated.  Fighting, road-blocks and controls reduce our ability to provide assistance at the scale that it is needed.  Given the escalating violence, increasing food shortages and renewed displacement, rising needs continue to outpace the response.  There are many pockets and hot spots of concern.  Rural Damascus, Aleppo and Al-Hassakeh are some of the most striking examples, where hundreds of communities are trapped and isolated.  In Rural Damascus, 38 locations have not been reached for some time.  We estimate that up to 800,000 people are now in need of urgent food assistance.  In Aleppo, over half a million people are also without access to food.  We expect to make progress in Aleppo with access shortly, because of ongoing conversations with the 12 different factions controlling the City and surrounding neighborhoods.

In Al Hassekeh, blockages enforced by extremist fighting groups prevent road access, and some 90 percent of the assistance that was planned could not be carried out.  There, we estimate that over 280,000 people need immediate aid.  In the old city centre of Homs, which has been closed for over a year, we are unable to accurately assess the number of civilians in need.

Adding to these challenges, Syria’s most recent wheat harvest is its worst in decades.  As a result, prices of basic imported staples have risen by up to 60 percent.  In addition, because of the freeze placed on the Syrian bank deposits by several countries, the government’s recent global market commodity tenders have received no responses from brokers; potentially further limiting the availability of imported staples creating the possibility of additional price increases.  Those with assets are now eroding their livelihoods, mostly because of the repeated and multiple displacements, primarily triggered by conflict and often by the requirement for accessible food.  As food in the market becomes ever scarcer, and that which is available continues to escalate in price, we anticipate more displacement.

Today, beyond Syria, as stated by colleagues, both host governments and communities struggle to accommodate and respond to the increasing Syrian refugee needs.  We acknowledge and thank the governments for their commitment and generosity.

Across the region, WFP currently supports 1.2 million people.  We applaud the registration efforts of UNHCR.  In Jordan, we reach over 410,000.  In Lebanon, we reach over 550,000.  In Turkey, over 110,000.  In Iraq, over 70,000.  And in Egypt, over 45,000.   Yet, there are large pockets of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt that we still must reach.  More needs to be done.  Our target is to support up to 2.6 million people by the end of 2013.  Certainty of funding is a must, if we are to programme operations to reach those in need and do so in a sustainable manner.

As stated, Syrian population displacement also exerts a massive impact on the food security and malnutrition rates of the vulnerable residents of the host-communities.  In Lebanon, refugees now compete with the local population for resources, for homes, for employment and for food.  Rapid changes in supply and demand have pushed domestic food prices up by 11 percent.  In fact, in areas of the North, prices have risen by up to 18 percent.  The facts are clear.  The impact falls on poor Lebanese families.  The recent World Bank study reported that two out of every five families in the North acknowledge their purchasing power is significantly reduced.  Poor Lebanese families are responding to this most recent challenge by cutting the number of meals that they eat every day, reducing the quality of those meals as well as spending from savings to buy food.  WFP staff observe similar situations across Jordan and Iraq as well.  Our regional recovery and development strategy must also address these basic family food needs.

There is some good news.  Vouchers represent 90 percent of WFP’s regional response, benefitting the people we serve and the local economy.  The refugee families we serve can choose preferred and fresh foods providing women with more control.  Through voucher programmes, we also assist the host communities.  Through refugee purchases using vouchers, over 66 million dollars has been invested in Lebanon, 47 million in Jordan, 26 million in Turkey and 10 million in Iraq.  In addition, many of our basic commodities distributed in Syria and Jordan are purchased locally to date we have purchased over 60 million US dollars from Turkish farmers and almost 40 million US dollars from Lebanese farmers.  While these investments make a difference we recognize the need for a more targeted programme response for the vulnerable host community populations.  Today, our teams are working with colleagues from UNICEF and UNHCR to fashion the school feeding programmes that will not only benefit the children but the local agricultural communities as well.

Excellencies, this is not a single issue crisis—this crisis affects children, women, men, communities, economies and governments.   Failure to reach all of the refugees will result in considerable pressure on already strained host communities and will exacerbate tensions across the region.  The region’s long-term stability is at stake.  Host-community support through resilience and recovery activities must begin now.   WFP is prepared to address the food and nutrition needs of today’s victims, but also to work with our sister agencies, the governments and the communities across the region, to ease the burden of those whose generosity has saved the lives and eased the suffering of so many, they too require and deserve our help.