Aid for Syrian refugees falling far short of soaring demand

Aid agencies trying to serve a growing number of people displaced by the conflict in Syria say the needs are increasingly outpacing the money pledged to help those forced to flee the conflict. The campaign is on to stretch every dollar, but worries remain that services won't be able to keep pace.

'Growing disconnect between the support that's available and the needs on the ground, UNICEF says

Syrian refugee children put up their tent that after a bout of stormy weather in early January at Zaatari camp in Mafraq, Jordan. The camp is home to more than 80,000 people displaced by fighting in Syria. (Raad Adayleh/Associated Press)

Every day in Jordan, 85 tanker trucks make 300 trips to provide water and handle sewage for the Zaatari refugee camp, a sprawling settlement set up to accommodate refugees fleeing the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

Some tankers come loaded with fresh water for the more than 80,000 refugees who have settled at Zaatari, while others haul away the waste. The tanker-truck system is eventually set to be replaced by a more permanent water and sanitation system that UNICEF says will provide better access to water at less than half the current annual cost.

That's the plan, but the $14 million US system isn't expected to be up and running until mid-2016. 

Since 2012, the number of people in need inside Syria has grown from roughly one million to 12.2 million, or by 1,120 per cent​, a report from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs says

"Funding for the humanitarian response inside Syria has not kept pace with the scale of needs," the report says, increasing over the same period from $639 billion to $1.8 billion, or 182 per cent. Outside of Syria, there's another 3.9 million people who have fled the violence.

"That's basically how I'm losing sleep," said Robert Jenkins, a UNICEF representative in Jordan. "There's a growing disconnect between the support that's available and the needs on the ground."

Syrian refugee children who fled violence in Syrian city of Ain al-Arab, known also as Kobani, collect water in a camp in the border town of Suruc, Turkey. (Emrah Gurel/Associated Press)

Camilla Jelbart Mosse, Syria crisis campaign manager for Oxfam based in Beirut, said refugees face different struggles depending on where they settle. In Zaatari, a large-scale, longer-term initiative makes sense, but refugees living in the many settlements dotted across Lebanon`s Bekaa Valley live in smaller communities that call for different solutions.

"We're always trying to look for different ways for them to use what water's around them," she said. 

The complicated project of getting a reliable supply of water to those in need is just part of the broader financial and logistical puzzle of serving Syrian refugees as the numbers grow. 

Food aid cut

The World Food Program says in its online appeal that its food operations for Syrians are running on a "hand-to-mouth basis" as funding falls short.

Program spokeswoman Abeer Etafa said the food agency has had to make cuts, but can't risk going any further without putting vulnerable people at risk. 

"Many families are on the edge of hunger," she said, and some families in besieged areas that are hard to reach are already dealing with high rates of malnutrition.

The cuts to food packages in Syria — from 1,646 calories per person per day to 1,440 — will mean fewer cans of fava beans and slightly smaller bags of staples like wheat, pasta and sugar, the World Food Program said.

Refugees outside of Syria who receive food vouchers that allow them to shop in local markets are also seeing the value of their assistance cut in most locations. 

  • Lebanon | Previous voucher value (US): $27. New voucher value (US): $19.
  • Jordan (urban) | Previous: $28. New: $19.
  • Jordan (refugee camp) | Previous: $28. New: $28.
  • Iraq | Previous: $28. New: $19.
  • Egypt | Previous: $24. New: $16.

Faisal Alazem, the strategy and external relations director with Syrian Kids Foundation, said the big organizations aren't the only ones feeling the pinch. 

The foundation, which was founded by Canadians, spends $50,000 a month to run the Al Salam School in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. When the school first opened in 2012, organizers expected 300 students — 900 showed up. Today, there are 2,000 students enrolled in the school, which runs from grades 1 through 12.

The group is seeking support from the Canadian government, but to date, the money has come "almost exclusively from private donations and fundraising," Alazem said.

He said there have been months when the group worried about meeting its financial commitments, but has always pulled through with the support of donors.

Syrian refugees shop with their humanitarian aid vouchers at the Zaatari refugee camp. Jordan says it is sheltering around 1.3 million refugees. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

"You're talking about people who left everything behind in Syria," he said of the 63 teachers and 30 bus drivers, administrators and security guards who work for the school. "We have an immense responsibility and we always try to avoid being in that situation." 

The Syrian-Canadian donors who have been essential to building and supporting the school are feeling stretched, he said, as many of them are also working to support loved ones caught up in the struggle. 

"They're all affected, without exception," he said of the Syrian-Canadians.

There's been no word from Canadian officials about whether the group will receive government funding, he said, so for now they are working with existing supporters and trying to reach a broader base of donors to keep the funds the school needs flowing.

The priority for now is to sustain what has already built, but he said demand for education is growing as major organizations focus on sustaining basic needs.

"We have 1,000 students on the waiting list; that list can expand almost infinitely."


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