The UN World Food Programme and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) began a massive distribution of food and other items on Sunday to over three times more vulnerable Iraqi refugees than assisted in the past.
While pressure to meet the needs of the Iraqi refugees mounts, WFP warned that unless new funds are quickly received, it will be unable to carry out the next round of distributions in April.
Today, food and other items such as blankets, soap and mattresses are being distributed to an initial 145,000 targeted refugees, as identified by UNHCR’s registration system. WFP and UNHCR aim to reach tens of thousands of additional refugee families by the end of 2008.
In January, WFP and UNHCR launched appeals for funding to assist thousands of refugees who have fled violence in Iraq to Syria, as well as thousands more displaced within Iraq. However, both agencies expressed concern that they face a US$113 million shortfall, far short of the full amount needed.
"While we should be preparing now for the next distribution, we simply have no resources to do so," said WFP Syria Country Director, Pippa Bradford.
She added that out of the US$43 million appeal to donors, only US$5 million has been received so far, barely enough to cover the first two months of the year.
Laurens Jolles, UNHCR Representative added, "Food assistance for refugees is crucial to prevent the worst consequences of the increased poverty of Iraqi refugees.
"So far only US$56 million of the required US$131 million in funding for UNHCR’s programme in Syria have been committed. As the number of refugees needing support continues to rise, we are aware that we will need more funding to sustain this operation as the year moves on," she said.
Food distributions are intended to cover the food needs of each individual for two months. The current distribution will take place over 35 days.
WFP provides staple commodities of rice, oil and lentils in each food package. In addition, UNHCR gives a complementary ration of tea, sugar, tomato paste and pasta.
UNHCR is also providing an additional 'one-time' distribution of non-food items such as mattresses, blankets and soap. The overall cost of the complementary food and non-food items is in excess of US$8.6 million.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is partnering with both agencies to support the distribution throughout the country. UNHCR is currently expanding its operations all over Syria through mobile registration.
Registration, a crucial protection tool that enables UNHCR to identify those in need, was completed in Al Hassakeh in January and will start in Al Bu Kamal city in mid-February.
WFP’s operation to provide food assistance to some 360,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria is part of a regional operation that includes helping feed 750,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis displaced within their country.
Currently, WFP Iraq is facing a 75 per cent shortfall in what it needs to help feed internally displaced Iraqis. The cost of the whole regional operation is US$126.6 million.