The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is restarting its aid program for 1.7 million Syrian refugees scattered across the Middle East — days after shutting down the crucial service due to insufficient funds.
In early December, the WFP suspended electronic food vouchers for Syrians who had fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The move triggered panic among refugees and threatened to leave thousands of families hungry as the winter months approach.
At the time, WFP cited the failure of donors to meet their commitments as a factor in pulling the program. The agency said it needed $64 million to support Syrian refugees in December alone.
But on Tuesday, the agency said that a fundraising drive since Dec. 1 had raised $80 million, which will allow it to distribute new funds of around $30 per family member by mid-December and also leaving some additional cash for the following month.
The WFP said it solicited $1.8 million in donations from almost 14,000 people and from private sector donors in 158 countries, as part of a campaign using the hashtag #ADollarALifeline. It was part of a drive it launched on social media to raise $1 contributions from 64 million people around the world. Other U.N. agencies such as UNICEF and the U.N.'s humanitarian office also promoted the campaign through social media.
"This outpouring of support in such a short time is unprecedented," the food agency's chief, Ertharin Cousin, said. "We're especially grateful to the many individual members of the public who reached into their own pockets to send whatever they could to help Syrian refugees who have lost everything. They showed that even as little as a dollar can make a difference."
The program pays for electronic vouchers, or e-cards, uploaded with an average $30 per family member, for refugees to buy food in local shops. The resumption of the food aid is expected to bring some relief to desperate refugees.
The WFP has helped feed millions of displaced people inside Syria and those who fled abroad since the crisis erupted in March 2011. The Syrian war has killed more than 200,000 people and led to a massive humanitarian crisis, forcing more than 3 million to seek refuge abroad and displacing 6.5 million within the country.
Meanwhile, violence in Syria continues.
A government rocket attack on Monday in the southern province of Daraa killed three staffers working for Orient TV, an opposition-linked channel, according to activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The three, a cameraman and two reporters, were driving out of the contested village of Sheikh Maskeen, where they had been covering clashes between government troops and opposition fighters, when the rocket slammed into their car, the Observatory said.
Dozens of journalists have been killed in Syria since the start of the crisis. Authorities in Damascus restrict access to independent foreign media while local reporters work under heavy restrictions.