Should the World Food Program identify its delinquent donors?

By David Bosco

Facing a funding shortfall, the UN’s World Food Program has taken the dramatic step of cutting aid to Syrian refugees. The Washington Post reports:

The program, which provides electronic vouchers for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to buy food at local stores, faces a $64 million shortfall, the agency said, attributing the problem to “unfulfilled” donor commitments.

“The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families,” Ertharin Cousin, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement.

The New York Times highlights the rarity of the WFP’s move:

International relief organizations routinely cajole donor countries for more money to deal with the Syria conflict as well as an array of other aid crises, from the Central African Republic to Ukraine, warning of impending disaster if the money does not arrive. Yet it is highly unusual for a major aid provider like the World Food Program to follow through on its admonishments by immediately suspending a major assistance operation.

So which countries are to blame for the plight of the WFP’s operations in the region? None of the accounts of the aid cutoff shed light on that question, and the agency itself is keeping mum. The WFP’s own news release says only that “many donor commitments remain unfulfilled.” With no culprits identified, blame has fallen on the amorphous “international community.”

Wael Abou Faour, Lebanon’s health minister, criticized the international community’s inability to meet its commitments to the World Food Program, which has spent about $800 million on assistance for Syrians since 2011.

“This demonstrates once again the failure of the international community to help Syrian refugees and the country of Lebanon, which has hosted so many refugees,” he said by telephone.

The WFP’s reticence is not surprising; organizations that rely on regular member-state contributions are understandably wary of nipping at the heels of even sluggish donors. But the episode does raise the question of whether, in emergency settings, international agencies should identify those states that have not provided promised aid. If the WFP is willing to cut aid to desperate Syrians, perhaps it should also be willing to identify those states compelling it to do so.

About David Bosco

Assistant Professor at American University's School of International Service. Contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics and Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World
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