Executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned on Wednesday that the food needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are skyrocketing and more needs to be done. Ertharin Cousin, after meeting with families during a two-day trip to Lebanon, said the UN agency was increasing its assistance by extending more food vouchers to families in need.
Around 75,000 people are benefitting through the WFP aid projects. The UN food agency hopes to extend it to 85,000 people by the end of November.
“It was very important to me to visit Lebanon as one of the first countries in this region because of the significant operation that we have begun here … to address the needs of refugees coming from Syria,” Cousin said.
She described the situation of many refugees as ‘dire’ and said that Syrians who have lived here for an extended period of time have used up their savings and are now turning to aid organisations for assistance.
She added that many of them have been forced to sell their possessions for money and are in desperate need, increasing the demand for food aid, she said.
“What they are finding is they have been here for a year, 13, 18 months in some cases and they have depleted their assets,” Cousin said. “We are seeing the traditional coping mechanisms where they are beginning to sell the few valuables they may have, in turn they come and register.”
WFP says it is running the largest food aid operation for Syrian refugees in the region. The organisation is operating a $62 million programme for over 350,000 refugees in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.
The UN aid agency is also providing assistance to 1.5 million people in Syria who are suffering from the civil war in the country. Cousin said she plans to visit Syria soon to check on WFP’s operations in the country.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, over 100,000 registered and unregistered Syrian refugees are sheltered in Lebanon. The UN says it is working round-the-clock to register them and provide further assistance.
Local activists and charities insist there are tens of thousands more refugees in the country who are yet to seek official recognition.
The arrival of Syrian refugees has put more pressure on Lebanon’s already saturated low-budget housing market.
“We must meet their food needs on an ongoing basis. It’s not a one month response – it is an every month response,” Cousin said.