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U.N. Agency Suspends Food Aid For 1.7 Million Syrian Refugees

Syrian refugees break their fast outside their tent at a Syrian refugee camp in Marj, Lebanon, on June 29. The World Food Program says it has suspended a food voucher program serving more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees because of a funding crisis.

The World Food Program says a funding crisis is forcing it to suspend a food voucher program for nearly 2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

"A suspension of WFP food assistance will endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighboring host countries," WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said in a statement on the Rome-based organization's website. "The suspension of WFP food assistance will be disastrous for many already suffering families."

More than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt were using the WFP's vouchers to buy food in local shops.

In all, the violence in Syria, which began in 2011, has created a humanitarian crisis and more than 3 million refugees. Another 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced by the fighting pitting President Bashar Assad's forces against a coalition of rebel groups, both moderate and Islamist.

The U.N. agency's decision comes ahead of winter, when there is a need for both food and clothing. The agency said it needs $64 million now to support the refugees this month. It said the voucher program has pumped $800 million into those countries surrounding Syria that host the refugees.

"We are very concerned about the negative impact these cuts will have on the refugees as well as the countries which host them," Muhannad Hadi, WFP regional emergency coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in the statement. "These countries have shouldered a heavy burden throughout this crisis."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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