BEIRUT (Reuters) - The U.N. World Food Programme has cut by half the amount of food assistance it can give to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon due to lack of funds, the agency said on Friday.
The WFP was forced to halt its regional food assistance programme briefly in December for 1.7 million Syrian refugees for the same reason but restarted it after receiving enough donations in a fundraising drive.
On Friday the agency said it had received a new donation from the United States which had prevented it from suspending the programme altogether.
But the WFP said it would still need to cut the amount it puts on electronic vouchers that allow refugees to buy food in stores.
The most vulnerable of the 440,000 Syrian refugees living outside camps in Jordan will get only $14 (£9) per person in August while the remaining refugees, who are slightly better off, will receive only $7 each, the agency said in a statement.
In Lebanon, the WFP will provide refugees with $13.5 per month, also half of their initial entitlement, it said. It did not give a figure for the number of refugees in Lebanon that would be affected.
“It is devastating to hear a mother saying she ties scarves around her children’s bellies so they don’t wake up feeling hungry,” WFP Regional Director Muhannad Hadi said in a statement.
“But these heartbreaking stories will continue if humanitarian assistance comes to a halt.”
A WFP factsheet put the poverty line in Lebanon at $3.84 person a day.
Of the new U.S. donation, $47 million would be used to support the food voucher operations in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, while the remaining $18.5 million would be channelled towards the WFP’s programme inside Syria, it said.
Syria’s neighbours are struggling to cope with refugee populations which have swelled since the crisis broke out in 2011.
The WFP said 95,000 refugees living inside camps in Jordan would continue to receive assistance at the full value of $28 per person per month.
It said the regional refugee operation continued to be “severely underfunded” and needed an immediate $168 million cash injection to continue supporting refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through October.
Global aid agency Oxfam described the cuts as “an unprecedented and dangerous development.”
“Two of the smallest countries in the Middle East will now be hosting more than 1.5 million Syrians with little to no subsistence support,” it said.
Many refugees had already started resorting to extreme measures to feed their families, by sending children to work, taking on debt or cutting back on meals, it added.
Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Angus MacSwan