The global humanitarian system on the verge of collapse

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the largest humanitarian relief agency in the world, has announced that it is cutting food rations to Syrian refugees living in Lebanon and Jordan. As a result, nearly 1.6 million Syrian refugees will be at greater risk of hunger and malnutrition. In Syria itself, about one-quarter of the country’s population, rely on the agency’s food assistance to survive.

The WFP and other humanitarian organizations can only respond if resources are available. Yet according to the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, less than 25 percent of global humanitarian needs have been funded in the first six months of 2015. That’s the lowest mid-year percentage in the U.N.’s history.

And it’s not just the WFP. UNICEF has also been forced to make cuts in Syria as a result of budget shortfalls.

It’s not just Syria either. In the past five years, at least 14 conflicts have erupted or reignited across the globe that have caused millions of families to flee their homes. In fact, in its latest Global Trends report, the UNHCR notes that the total number of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide stands at an all-time high.

Globally, one in every 122 people is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. From 2013 to 2014, the number of refugees grew by nearly 8 million — the biggest leap in a single year in UNHCR’s history. Right now, an estimated 78 million people across the globe are displaced through no fault of their own. If this figure were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.

Providing humanitarian assistance in Syria and elsewhere isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. History has proven that helping victims of war and persecution leads to greater stability, prosperity and goodwill for generations to come.

The U.S. government has consistently led the world in fighting hunger and addressing humanitarian needs. Once again, U.S. leadership is needed to mobilize the international community to address this “new normal.” While governments may disagree on the causes and possible solutions to the conflicts, all can agree that no child should suffer from hunger and malnutrition as a consequence of these conflicts. 

[By Rick Leach, the president and CEO of World Food Program USA, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that supports the mission of the U.N. World Food Programme] 

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