An official with the World Food Programme told diplomats on Wednesday that due to unfulfilled funding requests, Syrians who desperately require humanitarian aid may have to manage on just 825 calories per day. The slash in caloric intake is currently due to start just before the winter sets in, the fourth of the ongoing civil war.
Lack of access to food, shelter, and medicine has been one of the enduring features of the civil war, as both sides of the struggle have at times used aid as a weapon in the enduring conflict. The Syrian government was responsible for the vast majority of aid blockage, beseiging entire cities in rebel-held territory to punish the civilians living within. Earlier this year, the United Nations Security Council authorized aid convoys to travel from Turkey into Syria without the government’s permission — aid groups are only required to provide “notification” to Damascus.
The resolution has been getting results, according to the last U.N. report on its implementation. “For the first time in these monthly reports to the Security Council I can report some improvement in access across borders and across lines,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon wrote in August. “There have also been new openings in access across conflict lines in Aleppo (eastern rural), Dar`a (Dar`a city opposition-held neighbourhoods) and Rif Dimashq governorates. Many of these locations had not received assistance since the onset of the conflict. Of particular note is that medical supplies, including surgical items, reached a number of opposition-held areas this month.”
But now, according to John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), that progress is at risk due to lack of funding. “We have been gaining access for the first time to some besieged and hard to reach areas we have never been able to reach before,” Ging said. “We have more access opportunities, but are not able to scale up because of funding. You can’t deliver what you don’t have.”
“In October, WFP will be able to deliver 60 percent of what they have been delivering. In November it will be down to 40 percent,” Ging said to Reuters in Geneva after attending an unannounced meeting on humanitarian aid to Syria. “It is because the money is not coming in. This is devastating news for people who are aid-dependent.” Diplomats also told Reuters that a WFP official “told the closed-door talks that in November the food basket for Syrians could shrink to 825 calories, well under half the daily recommended intake.”
The funding crisis that Syria faces has only gotten worse as the war has continued. Last year, the U.N. requested $1.41 billion for the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan; by the end of 2013, that request had been two-thirds fulfilled. For 2014, the amount the U.N. requested was boosted to $2.28 billion, to reflect the growing needs of the displaced within Syria. With the year nearly three-quarters of the way done, the request is only 33.4 percent met. The U.S. has been by far the largest donor to Syria, having provided $1.5 billion towards the crisis this year.
As the funding has plummeted, the number of people forced to flee the conflict has grown. Last month, the United Nations announced that more than half of Syria’s 22 million person population have been forced out of their homes by the violence around them, with one in eight seeking shelter across the border. For those that remain, the situation is bleak, as more than three-quarters of Syrians now live in poverty, and more than half live in extreme poverty, making the aid brought in the only source of food for their families.