BEIRUT — A funding crisis has forced the World Food Program to suspend assistance to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, the U.N. agency announced Monday, warning that “many families will go hungry” without the aid.
The program, which provides electronic vouchers for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to buy food at local stores, faces a $64 million shortfall, the agency said, attributing the problem to “unfulfilled” donor commitments.
“The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families,” Ertharin Cousin, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement.
She called for an immediate resumption of funding and warned that the food-aid suspension will “endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighboring host countries.”
She did not specify which countries had not fulfilled pledges.
The announcement comes amid heightened concern about the safety of the refugees in harsh conditions. The deaths of two Syrian infants last month in Lebanon were blamed on frigid weather. The flow of an estimated 3.3 million Syrians from the conflict in their country has badly strained neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.
More than 1 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon, overwhelming the nation of 4.4 million people. Citing the economic burden and security concerns, Lebanon has dramatically reduced the number of Syrians allowed entry.
Wael Abou Faour, Lebanon’s health minister, criticized the international community’s inability to meet its commitments to the World Food Program, which has spent about $800 million on assistance for Syrians since 2011.
“This demonstrates once again the failure of the international community to help Syrian refugees and the country of Lebanon, which has hosted so many refugees,” he said by telephone.
For Syrians such as Mouhanad Mouree, there was shock that he, his wife and their six children may no longer receive their World Food Program vouchers. They fled their home town of Homs seven months ago for Tripoli, a city in northern Lebanon, where they live in a garage for $200 a month. Mouree is especially concerned about his 2-year-old son.
“I can hardly afford diapers and milk for my youngest son, and we freeze in the cold weather because we cannot afford heating with electricity,” he said by telephone. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”
Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.