(Photo: Arbat Transit Camp for Syrian Refugees in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan)

As part of our ongoing coverage of the global refugee crisis, today we look at how UN agencies are quickly running out of cash and consequently edging closer to bankruptcy.

In an interview with The Guardian, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres relayed a dim situation marked by increased need and declining budgets:

If you look at those displaced by conflict per day, in 2010 it was 11,000; last year there were 42,000. This means a dramatic increase in need, from shelter to water and sanitation, food, medical assistance, education. The budgets cannot be compared with the growth in need. Our income in 2015 will be around 10% less than in 2014. The global humanitarian community is not broken – as a whole they are more effective than ever before. But we are financially broke.

As world governments struggle to cope with the glut in refugees fleeing war torn countries including Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, it is unclear how aid agencies will be able to raise the necessary funds to keep aid programs afloat. The Syria Regional Response Plan – the overarching program to assist Syrians displaced by their nation’s intractable civil war – is barely 23 percent funded. Funding across the board is inadequate: relief efforts in Yemen are only 20 percent funded, programs to help internally displaced populations in Iraq are only 30 percent funded, and aid for Nepal earthquake victims is currently only 33 percent of the overall projected amount necessary.

Budget shortfalls take a large toll on refugees’ living standards, with UN agencies and aid providers cutting food rations and medical services. Refugees from Darfur received the distressing news that their food rations may end toward the end of the year. The World Food Program – the UN’s food agency – will suspend aid to 1.7 million Syrians because of funding shortages. Considering that displaced peoples possess virtually no means to generate income or sustenance, these realities pose tall and difficult challenges.

Unlike other arms of the UN, humanitarian efforts do not receive regular contributions from world governments. In other words, relief agencies – including the UNHCR and Unicef – depend on additional voluntary gifts from governments, as well as philanthropic contributions from individual global citizens.

Underfunded programs impact ongoing crises in a number of ways. Refugees that make the risky and potentially fatal trip by boat to Greece’s archipelago have told frontline UNHCR workers that they were compelled to flee camps in Jordan because of a dearth of food rations, declining living conditions, and the fraught and tense situation with native residents resulting from these worsening social conditions. This means that underfunded aid programs contribute to the mass migration fanning out through the Middle East and Europe.

Additionally, analysts are concerned that harrowing camp conditions could be a large boon for extremist organizations. Reports from refugee camps inside Turkey indicate that ISIS recruiters operate with relative impunity, attracting disaffected and hungry refugees lured by the promise of steady pay and food.

The amount of funding needed to fully support relief programs will unlikely come from private and voluntary gifts The total necessary is simply too high. Guterres and others are openly calling for reform that would require governments to contribute more mandatory funding for relief efforts. The commissioner remarked that to not “spend more on humanitarian aid is a bad strategy, not to say a suicidal one.” As programs begin unraveling due to the stress of higher demand sapping fewer resources, relief programs may indeed make situations even worse than they currently are.

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