With the World Food Programme recently announcing that food aid provided to displaced refugees across the Middle East would be reduced to $13.50 a month per person, many have been left wondering how the millions of people displaced by current conflicts can survive on monthly support that, on average, lasts only 10 days.
With the tumultuous and unforeseen rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, millions have become displaced due to the growth of the violent conflict. ISIL claimed responsibility just last week for the deadly bombing of a crowded market in Baghdad, which killed at least 80 and injured at least 100.
Such deplorable and random acts of violence have led a large number of Syrians and Iraqis to relocate from areas now contested or controlled by ISIL. With 1.1 million Syrians now seeking safety within Lebanon, officials estimate that 20 percent of the entire Lebanese population is now comprised of refugees escaping the conflict.
A report issued by the United Nations in July regarding the conflict within Syria noted, “Altogether, over one million people have been displaced from their homes in 2015 so far, many for the second or third time; this adding to the 7.6 million people already internally displaced as of the end of 2014.”
The report continued, explaining that “more broadly, the relentless conflict in Syria is gradually destroying the country’s social and economic fabric, eroding the development gains made over several generations: 80 per cent of people living in poverty; rampant food insecurity amid rising prices; degradation of vital infrastructure and limited access to basic services; and families and community networks destroyed.”
Many of the migrants who have traveled to Lebanon for shelter from the conflict have entered the national work force in order to pursue a more stable source of income. Reports have documented many younger migrants working as shoe shiners, street vendors and even prostitutes within the capital of Beirut. With other migrants reportedly filling low-paying positions within the agricultural sector, some officials are concerned that young refugees have stopped pursuing primary education to support their families.
Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Programme, explained, in a recent briefing in Beirut, how the increasing responsibility of providing food for displaced families has left many young men vulnerable to recruitment by high-paying extremist organizations. She said: “What concerns me is the young men who I was meeting with, who are feeling that responsibility that we talked about, who see no other method of feeding their family other than to return to Syria.”
Cousin continued in warning: “They become prime targets for the Islamist extremist groups who are paying money for service. So if that then is how they can feed their family, that is attractive and that is something that should worry us all.”
Many experts have warned of the dangers associated with refugees seeking asylum within Lebanon, as the nation does not maintain refugee camps capable of sustaining high population levels. Subsequently, many of the refugees who have traveled to Lebanon, the majority of whom are women and children, are increasing tensions with Lebanese citizens, as they are now seeking housing and employment in local communities.
The WFP, which was forced to cut the number of food aid recipients from 900,000 to 770,000 this year, has now said that it must raise over $160 million by the start of October in order to continue providing a sustained level of assistance to refugees. The WFP, which operates entirely on volunteer financial contributions, estimates that they spend about $25 million a week on providing food aid.
The organization has chosen to utilize an alternative, two-tier system in Jordan, where officials have mandated that $7 of food aid per month be provided to vulnerable refugee populations, while extremely vulnerable refugee populations will receive $14 a month. Officials recently announced that the $7 food aid grouping will stop receiving food aid in September due to a worsening funding disparity.
Officials familiar with the food distribution operations have noted that many refugee families are being forced to eat less meals per day and have even had to remove meat products from their diets entirely. Cousin has accredited this massive spike in the demand for food aid to the nearly 60 million people who are currently displaced across the globe.
In regards to the persistence of the conflicts gripping the Middle East, Cousin remarked that “every culture and every religion in the world says we must feed the poor. They are the victims of an evolving situation that is as much a crisis today as when they left their homes three or four years ago.”
– James Thornton