Since the onset of the conflict in Iraq in 2003, Syria continues to host the largest Iraqi refugee population in the region. Given the extended duration of their stay in Syria, the economic situation of the refugees is increasingly deteriorating mainly due to depletion of resources, savings, and remittances, as revealed by a joint assessment mission conducted on refugees in June 2009. The situation is further aggravated given that Iraqi refugees in Syria are not permitted to work, own property, or obtain licenses to operate businesses. Accordingly, they are fully dependent on external support, including humanitarian assistance. The assessment also found that smaller groups of Somalis, Sudanese and Afghanis who sought asylum in Syria are among the most vulnerable refugees living in the country.
After consecutive years of debilitating drought since 2006 – the worst in decades-, crop failure, and a dramatic inflation in food and fuel prices have left the rural population of Northeastern Syria extremely vulnerable. The affected population, mostly herders and farmers, have exhausted all possible coping strategies; the drought had left a serious impact on their nutritional status and livelihoods.
The Syrian government requested WFP’s assistance in launching a project targeting school-aged children, and poor, illiterate women in the marginalized and food-insecure areas of Syria. Such areas suffer from high school drop-out rates, as children leave school to work or participate in traditional seasonal migration. The enrolment rates of girls in school are relatively lower than boys’ as girls are removed from education for various reasons including early marriages. Moreover, the illiteracy rate for women is as high as 26 percent, leaving women marginalized from economic activities.
Since 1964, WFP has provided more than US $500 million worth of food assistance to Syria through development and emergency operations.
Current WFP activities include:
Assistance to Iraqi refugees in Syria: The emergency operation aims to save lives and protect the livelihoods of up to 115,000 Iraqi and non-Iraqi refugees. WFP provides food assistance through in-kind food distribution and Electronic Voucher System (EVS) in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the General Establishment for Storing and Marketing Agricultural and Animal Products (GESMAAP).
Electronic Voucher System (EVS): This innovative modality delivers food assistance in the form of a mobile text message. Refugees receive a text message on their mobile phones providing a code that enables them to cash in all or part of the "virtual voucher" at selected government shops. They can select from a wide variety of food items including fresh produce that cannot be included in conventional food assistance baskets. Beneficiaries no longer need to travel long distances to receive their rations; they can go to selected stores in their neighborhoods any time at their convenience. The EVS works well in a unique and prolonged refugee situation in an urban setting, under situations of normalcy and unrest alike.
Support for Food-Based Education Programming in Syria (Food-for-Education): This development project aims to encourage children and illiterate women living in rural areas to attend schools or literacy classes in return for food assistance. In 2010/2011, WFP and the Syrian Government are reaching 45,750 children and 5,000 women. The project was launched three years ago and has been extended until June 2012, allowing for a smooth handover to the government.
Emergency Response to the Drought in the Northeast of Syria: This emergency operation aims to address the immediate humanitarian needs of 300,000 drought-affected people who have exhausted traditional coping mechanisms and whose livelihoods became unsustainable given the constant inflation of fuel and food prices. This operation is designed to alleviate nutritional deficiency especially among drought-affected women and children as well as to prevent further reduction in the quality and quantity of food consumption.