BEIRUT — The United Nations said Wednesday that it is slashing food aid for Syrians because of funding shortfalls that are already deepening the suffering of millions of refugees from their country’s protracted civil war.
Starting this month, the World Food Program will reduce the food allowance given to 1.6 million of the 3.9 million Syrian refugees worldwide, most of them living in neighboring countries, the U.N. agency said in a statement.
The cut is the second in eight months and comes as the spiraling needs of Syrians who fled the war as many as four years ago outpace the money donated to help them.
In December, the per-capita ration allowance was cut from $27 to $19 a month, and the amount will be reduced to $13.50 a month soon — half the calculated minimum that the refugees need to survive, according to Joelle Eid, a spokeswoman for the WFP in Amman, Jordan.
Unless the agency receives an additional $139 million, she said, Syrian refugees in Jordan will face further cuts next month and food aid to all refugees in the region will be suspended entirely by September.
Earlier this year, the agency was forced to cut the overall number of food-aid recipients by nearly 400,000, leaving many vulnerable families without any assistance.
“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” said Muhannad Hadi, the WFP’s regional director. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”
The cuts in food aid coincide with warnings by the United Nations that a critical shortage of funds is jeopardizing the overall effort to care for the increasingly desperate refugees, including the provision of shelter, education and health care.
Syria is in the world’s worst refugee crisis, but it is far from the only one amid an unprecedented eruption of global conflicts and disasters that have pushed refugee numbers to record levels and stretched the resources of aid agencies.
The victims of wars in Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan, as well as survivors of the devastating April earthquake in Nepal and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, are competing for resources with those displaced by Syria’s conflict, now in its fifth year.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency that oversees the effort, said last week that it had received only 23 percent of the $4.5 billion needed to sustain current levels of assistance, and it warned that refugees are becoming increasingly desperate.
“We are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months,” High Commissioner António Guterres said in a statement. He called on the international community to do more to shoulder the burden.