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Food Aid To Starving Syrian Refugees Is At Risk


Unbelievable as this may seem, things could get even worse for almost 2 million people who have fled the civil war in Syria. The United Nations World Food Programme says it has run out of the money it needs to provide food vouchers for refugees who've crossed the border into neighboring countries. Those vouchers make it possible for refugees to shop for food and prepare their own meals. We have on the line Muhannad Hadi. He's the World Food Programme's emergency coordinator for Syria. He's in Amman, Jordan. Mr. Hadi, good morning.

MUHANNAD HADI: Good morning to you, David.

GREENE: So tell me how this happened.

HADI: Well, it's unfortunate. The WFP is staged to take this decision to stop the assistance for the refugees basically because of lack of funding. We can't sustain this program without the sufficient funding. And I have to say from the beginning, there is no right time to stop assistance for refugees. But it couldn't be worse than the winter. Last week, we had a cold front going through the Middle East - lots of rain and even some snow in Lebanon. The living conditions are already very harsh and difficult for the refugees. And on top of this now - to stop the food assistance - this is really a tragedy for the World Food Programme and for the Syrian refugees alike.

GREENE: Now, I know there are different programs in countries like Jordan, where you are, and countries like Lebanon - these neighboring countries. Some of them give food, you know, bags of flour and other things to people who wait in line. This was a different program. This is helping people buy their own food - make their own meals. How important is this program?

HADI: Well, definitely, this is a very unique program. I mean, the Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, they do their own shopping. It's mothers who decide what they want to put on the dinner table for their children. Actually, I call it the dignity food because on top of everything, it maintains the dignity of the refugees.

GREENE: I know you said this is such a matter of dignity to help people, but in a desperate situation, you know, will you be able to carry on and just give food directly to people even if it's not through these vouchers?

HADI: No. It's the same thing. Before we started the voucher program, we were giving them foods through the old-fashioned way of giving assistance to people. So it's not an issue of in what mean we give them the food. It's the funds that we need to run this program. And as a matter of fact this is their preferred option to get food.

GREENE: I know you say it's their preferred option. I just want to sort out, you know, how devastating this might get. Are we talking about hundreds of thousands of people who will actually not get food and could starve this winter if this program is not in place?

HADI: Yes, that's what I'm saying. There is no other option for them. It's not that we can bring them wheat flour or bread and rice and give them. Unless we have the funds, then we can't do anything for them.

GREENE: And I just want to make clear if you were able to secure the funding, you could get this program back on its feet immediately?

HADI: Absolutely, within 24 hours. The beauty of this program is even if we get the money tonight, by tomorrow morning we'll be able to program it. And we'll just upload their cards with the value of the voucher, and they can do the shopping.

GREENE: Why do you feel like donor countries and donors have not given the funds necessary for this?

HADI: First of all, we are grateful for all of the countries that have supported this operation. And we're really grateful for the American people because they are the biggest supporter and donor to this operation. And we also understand that this program is a big program, and there are other emergencies. But the fact is the Syrian crisis is a very complex crisis. And it's just going from bad to worse. It has taken too long. We understand that the suffering of the people also has increased. And the international community must stand by the Syrian people until this crisis is over. We, they really cannot be left alone during this misery.

GREENE: We've been speaking with Muhannad Hadi. He's the U.N. World Food Programme's emergency coordinator for Syria. He's been on the line with us from Amman, Jordan. Mr. Hadi, thanks very much for your time.

HADI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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