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U.N. food aid official pleads for more Syrian aid to ward off catastrophe

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

A U.N. World Food Program emergency coordinator for Syria urged Japan and the rest of the international community Friday to come up with more funding to supply food aid to Syrians both inside and outside the country.

Speaking at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Muhannad Hadi said the WFP needs $500 million to keep the program running until the end of the year, helping 4 million civilians in Syria and 2 million refugees in nearby countries. The group is already facing a $176 million shortfall, he said.

“We are asking everybody to help us,” Hadi said. “It’s important for everybody to support humanitarian efforts in Syria. Otherwise we are going to see a catastrophe in the region.”

The WFP has been providing aid since the conflict began in early 2011, delivering food to civilians regardless of area or the force in control. It has also provided food vouchers or prepaid cards to refugees in nearby countries, such as Iraq and Jordan, for use at supermarkets local communities run in refugee camps.

Delivering food aid has become increasingly difficult, however, because of rising combat in some regions, Hadi said.

The WFP was unable to get food to the northeast recently , prompting about 50,000 people to flee to Iraq, he said.

“We need financial support and we need political support to put pressure on both sides in the conflict to allow us to work there,” Hadi said.

He said that refugees will grow as long as the conflict continues.

“What happens next year, that is what keeps me awake at night. This crisis is not ending soon. Our fear is that the crisis (will go on) for a longer period. If the situation gets worse in the next year, much more money will be needed.”

According to a U.N. study, refugees from the civil war topped 2 million at the beginning of September, an almost tenfold increase in the past 12 months.

Japan has provided some $95 million to international organizations, including the WFP, as well as Japanese non-governmental organizations for humanitarian support inside and outside Syria.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly plans to announce an additional $10 million in aid at the U.N. General Assembly next week.