The World Food Programme’s (WFP) Ambassador Against Hunger Mahmoud Yassin has called on donors to provide urgent funding now to enable WFP to continue its operation to provide food assistance to tens of thousands displaced Iraqis in Syria after early June.
“I was deeply moved to meet the families who are obviously heavily dependent on assistance. These people have lost everything. The last thing they need is for their basic food requirements to be disrupted as well,” Yassin said.
The Egyptian actor, who arrived in Syria on Monday, has visited the Al Saydeh Zainab area near Damascus to meet some of the Iraqi families assisted by WFP.
He said donors needed to act now and fund WFP’s US$44 million operation in Syria for the refugees. The operation in Syria, initially targeting 155,000 people, is facing a funding shortfall of 45 percent.
WFP and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) began a broad distribution of food and other items in February in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).
WFP hopes to reach some 360,000 people in Syria by the end of 2008.
“As of April, WFP has received only US$24 million out of the US$44 million it needs. If the funds don’t become available soon, the next round of food distribution may have to be postponed,” WFP Syria Country Director Pippa Bradford said.
Syria, which has up until recently provided shelter to virtually all that have arrived at the border, is hosting some 1.5 million displaced Iraqis – many of whom have no savings, no income and no means of support. Many have depleted their meagre resources and cannot cope with the rising costs of living, especially food prices.
The price of rice, the main staple food, has risen by as much as 55 percent since January.
“We thank the Syrian government for generously hosting hundreds of thousands of people from Iraq, which is putting pressure on its economy especially the health and education sectors. That is why we appeal to the international community to provide more assistance,” Yassin said.
Cutting back on food
In a recent UN assessment, conducted in collaboration with the SARC, about a third of Iraqi respondents said they skipped one meal a day to feed their children, while 60 percent said they were buying less expensive foods, often less nutritious, to cope with high prices.
Food distribution to the Iraqis in Syria is part of a regional operation that also includes helping feed 750,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis displaced within their country. The US$127 million regional operation is suffering a funding shortfall of more than 60 percent.