The United Nations has run out of money to buy food for more than one and a half million Syrian refugees. The World Food Programme agency says it will suspend payments to people in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and and Egypt because donors have failed to live up to promises made earlier this year.
CHRIS UHLMANN: The United Nations has run out of money to buy food for more than one and a half million Syrian refugees.
The World Food Programme agency says it will suspend payments to people in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt because donors have failed to live up to promises made earlier this year.
Peter Lloyd is speaking to Emilia Casella at the agency’s headquarters in Rome.
EMILIA CASELLA: Basically, the cupboard is bare. We have virtually no funds for December, and we’ve been forced into this position after really appealing for funds quite strongly since October.
PETER LLOYD: What sort of aid was this? Was it cash handouts?
EMILIA CASELLA: No, it was what we called mostly electronic vouchers, some paper vouchers. So it is like – it’s not cash handouts – but it’s like a credit card that people get topped up every month and it enables them to go to local supermarkets and buy food.
And, for some people, that might seem like a weird way to do food assistance, but we use it in countries where food is available, but the people that we’re trying to help don’t have any money to buy it.
PETER LLOYD: How soon does the voucher system stop?
EMILIA CASELLA: Well as of today for most of the refugees.
In some countries, in Egypt and in Turkey we have enough money to load their vouchers with about just over a third of their normal amount that will last for about 13 days.
After the 13 days – we’re talking about the people in Egypt and Turkey, so it’s about 100,000 people in Egypt and about 230,000 people in Turkey – their funding will be cut off.
But, you know, they’re in a better situation than the people in Lebanon and in Jordan. We have 850,000 refugees who have had their food vouchers suspended as of today in Lebanon.
And in Jordan, 450,000, more than 450,000 refugees, living in communities are having their vouchers suspended.
PETER LLOYD: Can’t any of the sister agencies of WFP (World Food Program) help?
EMILIA CASELLA: Well certainly the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is very supportive.
PETER LLOYD: What I was getting at was, why don’t you get a loan from one of the other agencies?
EMILIA CASELLA: (laughs) That’s a creative option which I don’t actually have an answer for you for. We’ve certainly been using, even internally, our own internal loan mechanism, and we’ve exhausted those.
What I mean is that we have had donors that have pledged funds and this has permitted us to, in essence, take a loan out, an internal loan against those pledges in our own financial system and we’ve done that.
We’ve done that quite a lot with the permission of our donors and we’ve basically come to the end of that pot.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Emilia Casella from the World Food Program. She was speaking to Peter Lloyd.