UN may cut food aid to Syrian refugees due to cash shortage

Updated 09 April 2013

UN may cut food aid to Syrian refugees due to cash shortage

BEIRUT/GENEVA: The United Nations said yesterday it will halt food aid to 400,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon next month unless it receives urgent new funding.
The cash shortage is part of a wider financial shortfall that the organization says is threatening its efforts to help nearly 1.3 million Syrian refugees and almost 4 million more people displaced inside Syria by the two-year conflict.
“The speed with which the crisis is deteriorating is much faster than the ability of the international community to finance the Syrian humanitarian needs,” Panos Moumtzis, the UN refugee agency’s regional coordinator for Syrian refugees said.
“We’re afraid, if no more funds are made available urgently — and this is where we are at a breaking point — we will come to a point where we will have to start reducing aid, prioritizing aid,” he said in Geneva.
In Lebanon, where authorities and aid groups are struggling to cope with a growing wave of refugees already equivalent to 10 percent of the local population, the UN World Food Programme warned that it might be forced to cut back operations in May.
“In one month, and with the current funding, more than 400,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon will no longer receive food assistance,” WFP country operations head Etienne Labande said.
All refugees currently receive food when they register and then get monthly food coupons worth $27 a month, Labande said, but any interruption in that support could lead to unrest in a country where sectarian tensions have already been aggravated by the Syrian crisis.
“I am extremely concerned that without continued funding we will see increased tensions and further displacement in an already tense environment,” Labande said.
REFUGEE “CATASTROPHE“
The United Nations said in mid-February that around 70,000 people had been killed in the uprising against President Bashar Assad. Since then, violence monitors say more than 10,000 people have died. The fighting has also left whole districts of the Syria’s historic cities in rubble.
The Beirut-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia estimates that 400,000 houses have been completely destroyed, 300,000 partially destroyed and a further half million suffered some kind of structural damage, so that one in three Syrian homes has been scarred by the war.
The United Nations says that so far only $400 million out of more than $1.5 billion pledged by international donors in late January to cover Syrian refugee needs for the first six months of this year has actually been committed.
It said last week the impact of the lack of funds would include a halt in 3.5 million liters of daily water deliveries to Jordan’s Zaatari camp which houses more than 100,000 refugees, mostly children.
“There’s tremendous pressure on the resources of these countries,” Moumtzis said.
“The refugees are being hosted by some of the poorest of the poor communities in Lebanon. And this is where there is a huge fragility, Lebanon in particular but also in Jordan.”
Moumtzis said he would be visiting the United States, Brussels and London to chase further donations but on the ground, aid workers said they were already feeling the pinch.
“It is a catastrophe. We are being asked to do more and more with less and less,” UNHCR’s Lebanon representative Ninette Kelley told reporters at the opening of a new registration center for Syrian refugees in the southern coastal town of Tyre.
“We simply don’t have the resources that we need in order to provide the assistance that is so desperately needed by the refugees and the help to the hosting community who so badly need it.”


Algeria kicks off presidential campaign, 5 candidates to run

Updated 17 min 41 sec ago

Algeria kicks off presidential campaign, 5 candidates to run

  • In some neighborhoods of Algiers, protesters have hung black trash bags on billboards featuring the candidates’ portraits

ALGIERS: Algeria’s presidential campaign officially kicked off Sunday with five candidates vying to replace the country’s longtime leader, who was pushed out in April amid sustained protests.
Two former prime ministers, Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune, are among those running in the Dec. 12 election to succeed former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Big crowds took to the streets Friday for a 39th consecutive week to demand an end to Algeria’s post-colonial political system. Protesters say they don’t trust those currently in power to ensure democratic elections, citing their past links to Bouteflika.
Benflis and Tebboune are considered the favorites of the vote.
The other candidates are: former tourism minister and moderate Islamist Abdelkader Bengrina; former culture minister and current interim secretary of the RND party that was in the governing coalition, Azzedine Mihoubi; and Belaid Abdelaziz, who heads the small El Moustakbel (Future) party that’s close to the FLN, both of which remain part of the ruling coalition.
In some neighborhoods of Algiers, protesters have hung black trash bags on billboards featuring the candidates’ portraits, often sprayed with the words “election of shame” and “traitors.”
Benflis said this week that “this election is not held in ideal conditions, I know that, but I consider it is the shorter and less risky path to get Algeria out of the political impasse caused by the former regime.”
Tebboune acknowledged the “special climate” of the electoral process. Speaking on television earlier this month, he justified his candidacy by saying he wanted to “put Algeria back on good tracks.”
“Some Algerians are against the election, but I know a majority are for it,” he said.
Army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has emerged as the country’s authority figure, repeatedly vowed that “all security conditions will be met so that Algerians can fulfill their electoral duty in full serenity.”