First of all, ugh, I wasn’t planning to disappear for so long! The longer I am working, the more appreciation I have for the more professional bloggers that do it next to their day job – what a tough call! However, I really miss this little space whenever I quiet down for a while, so don’t worry, there is more to come; I have a couple of great topics lined up!
First off, let’s focus on a story that has unfolded in interesting ways in the past week. On Monday, the World Food Programme announced that they had to suspend their food voucher program for Syrian refugees because of a lack of funding. The program had enabled around 1.7 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to buy food in local shops. As one of my friends who is working in the area says, these vouchers are often the only source of income available to the displaced population that fled war and destruction. In its appeal, the WFP said it needed $64 million to help the recipients this month. The suspension comes at the beginning of winter, when food and clothing assistance is more needed than ever.
Reflecting on the story a week later, it’s interesting to note how the WFP chose to communicate this funding gap. According to their website, they launched an “unprecedented social media campaign” to draw attention to the immediate need for funding. A 72 hour appeal – complete with hashtag #ADollarALifeline – ran from Wednesday to Saturday morning, drawing more than 12,000 donations (which doesn’t seem a lot to me?). The last update from Friday notes that $21.5 million were raised in the first 24 hours, created cause for cautious optimism that their funding goal may have been reached. But then again, this will cover the month of December only. Would there be the need to fundraise again month by month to help sustain the program? Or is there money earmarked as of January 1 that for administrative reasons cannot yet be disbursed?
In general, when coming from a political arena, $64 million sounds like peanuts. One budget line among many. And then my friends and I wondered – what kind of money is being spent on this conflict alone in comparison?
Just one figure that is publicly available – the US Congress approved in September to spend $500 million to aid “moderate” Syrian rebels. In November, Obama asked the Congress for $5.6 billion for anti-ISIL operations, including military operations. This is 87 times the amount that the WFP is asking for to feed the refugees that the fighting has displaced, and yet, is probable to continue rather than placate the fighting. It is clearly difficult to gauge whether such intervention will be fruitful or not, and I do see the argument that non-action is also not an option.
What irks me the most is that much of the military expenditure debate is centered around a perceived necessity to act. One news site summarized the debate as follows: “The bipartisan 273-156 vote came after days of debate in which lawmakers across the political spectrum expressed doubts about the scope and merits of the mission but conceded that the potential threat to the U.S. is too great to ignore.” Such plans are passed from a place of severe uncertainty in the usefulness of the proposal, but the fear to miss an opportunity to act seems to quell all concerns raised. On the other hand, missions like those of the WFP have to turn to private fundraising efforts despite the unquestionable necessity of their action. It’s an interesting world we live in.
Even after their 72 hour appeal, the WFP is accepting donations to reinstate the voucher program. If you would like to support the WFP, you can do so here!