CAIRO (dpa) – The World Food Programme warned Monday that many Syrian families “will go hungry”, after suspending food aid to more than 1.7 million refugees because of a funding crisis. “For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating,” the WFP said.
The UN agency has been giving destitute refugees vouchers to buy food in local shops in countries neighbouring Syria. WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin said that the agency needs 64 million dollars immediately to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries during December.
The agency is assisting people inside Syria, too, but has enough resources to feed aid recipients there until January. “This funding issue is coming at a very bad time, because we are finally getting access to areas that have been cut off for months, but we are now facing a situation where we can’t feed the people we have gained access to recently,” WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa said.
UN agencies estimate that more than three million Syrians have fled into neighbouring countries, while 6.45 million people are displaced inside Syria.
The conflict, which began in 2011 with peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has become a multi-sided civil war, which the UN says has cost more than 190,000 lives.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around 4,220 people were killed in November alone. The death toll includes 869 civilians, among them 152 children, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
The United States, which has given more than three billion dollars for humanitarian needs in and around Syria including 935 million dollars to WFP, urged governments in the region “to do more” in response to UN appeals for Syrian humanitarian needs.
“I don”t think it’s productive for us to name names,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington. “But I think there’s countries in the region that can do more – should do more.”
She noted that humanitarian assistance is one of five prongs in the international coalition against the Islamic State militant group, which has seized territory in both Syria and Iraq. US Secretary of State John Kerry, scheduled to attend NATO meetings Tuesday, is to lead the first ministerial-level meeting of the 60-country coalition Wednesday in Brussels. In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent 24 top police officials into retirement in a major shake up Monday, after telling parliament Sunday that 50,000 non-existent soldiers had been registered as army personnel.
Al-Abadi has promised to upgrade Iraq’s security forces, which crumbled in the face of a lightning offensive by Islamic State militants starting in June in northern Iraq.
Critics say that corruption is rife among Iraqi commanders, with the creation of fictitious soldiers allowing wage payments to be siphoned off. Psaki said al-Abadi had taken “a series of steps to create a more professional and unified military force, and that certainly is encouraging.”
According to UN figures, 936 civilians and 296 security personnel were killed in November in Iraq, raising the death toll for the year to almost 12,000.