By: Kiana Davis, Humanitas Global
In the spring of 2011, the Arab Spring evolved into a brutal war between opposition and government forces in Syria. Three years later, the conflict continues, having already claimed over 100,000 lives and causing injury to hundreds of thousands more. In the face of such devastating circumstances, over six million Syrians have fled their homes and sought out safety in Syrian refugee camps. Over two million others have decided to leave their home country and have crossed Syria’s borders into surrounding countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq. The United Nations, governments, and NGOs have claimed that the Syrian Refugee Crisis is the “most challenging refugee crisis in a generation,” reaching proportions not seen since those following the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.
Communities across the Middle Eastern region are bearing harsh consequences from the huge influx of Syrian refugees. Schools and hospitals are overpopulated and understaffed, housing prices have risen, and wages have declined as the swelling numbers of refugees offer cheaper labor options. The governments of countries with high refugee populations are concerned with the relative lack of water and/or food in the region to sustain the increasing number of people living in their lands. As the refugee population continues to grow, countries already facing issues with food security face a bleak situation. The lack of food available affects not only the health and nourishment of the refugees, but also their ability to partake in education programs or work.
The growing refugee population is not only a concern for governments in providing for these additional people, but also because of the effect the increased population has on their own citizens. In Lebanon, where over half a million Syrian refugees reside, 170,000 Lebanese have been pushed into poverty by the Syrian crisis and 72% of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon has been labeled food insecure. Government expenditures have increased $1.1 billion for increased public services. Turkey is the temporary home to approximately 670,000 Syrian refugees, and the government estimates that it has spent over $2 billion responding to the crisis. In Jordan, which has 600,000 registered refugees, the cost of food has increased by 27% in the last year alone. These figures are bleak and alarming, and unfortunately, the number of refugees and the rate in which they are fleeing Syria’s borders are only increasing.
For the millions of Syrians living in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, hunger and undernutrition are major issues. Even with the help of foreign aid, host countries do not have the means to provide for the needs of refugees. Furthermore, official statistics and government aid do not fully account for the thousands and thousands of Syrians living in towns and communities outside of refugee camps in these countries. In Jordan, those living outside camps receive aid in the form of a UN stipend of $140 per month, which hardly covers rent, let alone food.
The WFP currently requires 40,000 tons of food a month just to feed those internally displaced persons still in Syrian refugee camps, and $40 million each week to assist Syrian IDPs and affected people in Syria. According to the World Food Programme’s Global Food Security Update of 2014, half of Syria’s population, or 9.9 million people, are unable to buy sufficient food for their usual consumption. 6.3 million people have been identified as “highly vulnerable” and “in critical need of sustained food assistance,” which represents over a 50% increase since the last food estimate presented in June 2013. In Lebanon, UNHCR chief, António Guterres, claims that only 13% of the humanitarian aid appeal has been funded, leaving international support “totally out of proportion with what is needed.”
Addressing the food security needs of the Syrian refugee community is further complicated by the challenges of food distribution. Typically, distribution efforts for refugee communities are managed jointly by World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), a large network of local governments, and NGOs in the crisis region to ensure food arrives to those who need it most. However, it is extremely challenging to ensure that food items are delivered to people who need it most or to adequately assess the nutrition needs of different communities when dealing with regions with internal violent conflicts, as in the case in Syria and throughout much of the Middle East today.
Despite the emergency preparedness and responsive measures of the WFP and the UNHCR, with 9.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside of Syria and many millions more in the surrounding region, there is still much to be done for the Syrian refugee crisis. The international community has an obligation to address the pressing needs of Syrian refugees as they distress the current state and the future of food and nutrition security throughout the Middle East.