Getting help to Syria

Dexter Filkins writes: Few experiences are more haunting than visiting a refugee camp in the middle of winter. You walk the rows between the tents, peering in here and there, finding men and women wrapped in blankets, huddled round lanterns, each face wearing the unforgettable look of a person who has lost control of his life. The children are shivering. You wonder, inevitably, how things could get any worse.

On December 1st, the World Food Programme (W.F.P.), announced that it was suspending its operations to feed one million seven hundred thousand Syrian refugees—scattered across Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt—because it had run out of money. (The program is under the auspices of the U.N., but funded entirely by voluntary donations.) Under the program, Syrian families received the equivalent of a dollar a person each day to buy food at local shops. This operation cost sixty-four million dollars a month, and, while governments and private donors had helped to fund it throughout most of 2014, there was no longer enough money to carry on. This was “disastrous,” the Programme said in a statement. Winter, indeed.

Agencies dedicated to providing humanitarian relief, like the World Food Programme and private organizations, like the International Rescue Committee (I.R.C.), are always pleading for money. From a distance, it’s easy to assume that they always get it, that a government or a wealthy donor will eventually write the check that allows them to continue their work. Not so: each year, relief organizations suspend or curtail aid because they run out of cash. “The majority of our programs end because the money runs out, not because the need is gone,” David Miliband, the president of the I.R.C., which has twelve thousand relief workers in forty countries, told me. In Zimbabwe, where at least a half million people need food, the W.F.P. is closing three of its four field offices at the end of the month. It has already reduced rations for malnourished children, pregnant women, and people with H.I.V. and with tuberculosis. [Continue reading…]

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