Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to suspend a critical food aid scheme for more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees because of a funding crisis.
The Rome-based UN agency said the programme gave refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt vouchers to buy food. Without them, many families will go hungry this winter, it warned.
The WFP's Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, said the UN agency was in critical need of funding, with US$ 64 million required to support refugees in December alone.
Since the anti-Assad uprising began, about 200,000 people, many civilians, have been killed. More than 3.2 million people have fled Syria and another 7.6 million have been displaced inside the country.
The WFP's voucher programme - which allows refugees to buy food in local shops - has injected about US$ 800 million into the economies of host countries.
The agency said that for people already struggling to survive the harsh winter in the region, particularly those in camps and informal settlements in Lebanon and Jordan, the consequences of halting such assistance would be "devastating" and further fuel regional tensions.
With a world economy in crisis and rising international tensions, donations have dried up, forcing UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to cut back on their operations.
Like the United Nations in October, the WFP's appeal to donors is blunt and urgent, saying that the refugees affected by the suspension of food aid include many children in Lebanon and Jordan. As the winter sets in, they are facing the harsh weather without adequate clothing or footwear, living in tents already caked in mud with a precarious level of hygiene.
Before the conflict began, Syria had a higher gross domestic product (GDP) than countries such as Tunisia and Jordan, and it ranked favourably on human development indicators including health and education.
Now, the brutal violence that followed the uprising against President - a dictator according to critics - and government repression have crippled the country.
In a separate development on Monday, jihadist militants from Islamic State killed at least 15 Iraqi border guards at a checkpoint along the border with Syria, near the town of Walid.