Within Syria, WFP is aiming to increase its reach to provide aid to more than 4.25 million internally displaced people, up from 3.8 million people in December 2013. Outside the country the organisation is considering an expansion of its food voucher programme for refugees.
UN figures suggest more than 6.5 million people have been displaced within Syria, and more than 2 million have become refugees in neighbouring countries.
“We're doing a lot – reaching 3.8 million people is already a huge success for us, given the conditions on the ground – but we're hoping to achieve more,” said Laure Chadraoui, a WFP spokeswoman.
Syria's food requirements are complex, with rations including up to 19 different commodities, according to Chadraoui. This can make sourcing and distributing food assistance a particular challenge, when combined with the other problems in the region.
“Sometimes, the lack or the limited capacity to provide processed food such as canned food, or other commodities on time, including date bars, biscuits (which are distributed to refugees in camps in Jordan and Iraq), is a challenge,” said Chadraoui.
She praised the regional industry for its response to the crisis: “The food supply industry is generally very supportive of our efforts, and in many cases go out of their normal practices in order to be able to meet requirements. Suppliers often make efforts in meeting Syrian food specifications and many have already increased their capacity in the region.
“Most of them are accepting WFP’s contractual terms which are different than commercial ones particularly pertaining to payments... and are widely understanding of WFP’s need for timely delivery to support the Syrian operation,” she added.
Expanding voucher programmes
Outside Syria, WFP is considering an expansion of its e-voucher programme. Currently the programme provides refugees in Lebanon, and increasingly in Jordan, with cards similar to debit cards which can be used in particular shops contracted by WFP, instead of supplying food assistance directly.
“There is a discussion, which is ongoing, of extending the programme to all the shops, as opposed to selected shops – we are still discussing the pros and cons,” said Chadraoui, adding that only locally-owned retailers would be considered, not chains or international supermarkets.
“But we also need to make sure these shops respect our guidelines for quality, quantity, cleanliness, prices, non-discrimination against refugees, and all of these issues. At the moment we still contract shops ourselves, and monitor these shops to see they're complying with our guidelines. But at one point, we could open it to all shops, if this is found to make better sense,” she explained.
According to Chadraoui, the voucher programmes are very beneficial to the local economies of areas with refugees – 72% of contracted retailers are in rural areas, which are often deprived, so the income from the WFP vouchers can be a boost.
Although the impact from vouchers at a local level can be significant, Chadraoui said WFP takes care to ensure there are no undesirable consequences, such as inflation. She explained WFP had done extensive modelling for these programmes before using them in the field, and continues to monitor them while in progress.
“We have a very robust monitoring system in place, and as part of this system, we have field staff going around all of these countries, monitoring prices and commodities, and making sure our programme doesn't have any negative repercussions on the economy. So far we haven't seen any inflation in food prices,” she said.