The World Food Program is Crowdfunding for Syrian Refugees Because Our Humanitarian System is Broken

On December 1, 2014 humanity got a glimpse of what life will be like for the world’s most vulnerable people in 2015.

For want of $64 million, the World Food Program was forced to suspend a voucher program that fed 1.7 million Syrian refugees. Refugees used these vouchers (which are essentially debit cards) to purchase food in local shops. But on December 1, the funding for the voucher program ran dry, so the WFP had no choice but to suspend the voucher payments to Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon Turkey and Egypt.

Lack of funding for humanitarian operations has always been a problem for the international community, but never has the global humanitarian response system been stretched as thin as it is today. Between Typhoon Hayan in November 2013, the sudden outbreak of civil war in South Sudan and the Central African Republic last winter, and the ebola crisis this spring and summer, there have never been as many acute humanitarian emergencies in such a condensed time frame.

On top of all of this is Syria–which is the largest and most expensive humanitarian operation in modern history. In 2012, the Syrian Humanitarian appeal was the largest ever at $1.2 billion. Two years later, it has quadrupled to $4.4 billion. But of that $4.4 billion requested, only about half has been committed.

When a manmade or natural disaster strikes, humanitarian organizations have to go to donors hat-in-hand to ask for funding to provide medicines, food and shelter to provide for the basic needs of affected populations. Donors contribute, or they don’t–and people go hungry.

In the case of the WFP’s voucher program feeding 1.7 million people, donor governments are not paying up, so the WFP has done something I’ve never seen before: launch an emergency public campaign to see if they can raise $64 million in small contributions from the general public in the next 72 hours. They are asking individuals to donate a dollar and post badges to social media to help spread the word.

I’ve donated–and suggest you do, too. But the fact that the WFP is resorting to crowd funding for Syrian refugees is evidence that the humanitarian system isn’t just stretched thing. It’s broken.