UN using crowdfunding app to tackle refugee camp food shortages

Displaced women and children waiting for their food rations after an humanitarian air drop by the World Food Programme in South Sudan on July 25.
Displaced women and children waiting for their food rations after an humanitarian air drop by the World Food Programme in South Sudan on July 25. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (REUTERS) - The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) has responded to a funding crunch by developing a mobile app that enables people around the world to donate money to help feed the four million displaced Syrians living in neighbouring countries.

Developed by a start-up in Berlin, the app Share the Meal is touted as the first of its kind, allowing people to fund food rations for WFP initiatives in Jordan, to which many of the people escaping Syria's civil war have fled.

The new app, available for both the iPhone and Android devices, offers food donations from US$0.50 (S$0.71) a day for a food bar to up to US$150 a year, and funds are directly forwarded to WFP school feeding programmes.

"Share the meal for us definitely is about growing the pie of people who contribute and we are increasingly looking for partners in the private sector and individuals in the broader public to help us," said Mr Robert Opp, director of innovation and change management at the WFP.

Only two months ago, the WFP launched a new fund-raising and awareness campaign with global brands like McDonald's and Google. Alleviating hunger and improving living conditions in refugee camps as well as among the Syrian communities in Lebanon and Jordan is widely seen as crucial to encouraging more Syrians not to leave the area to embark on a risky journey to Europe.

Europe is struggling with a record influx of refugees this year, with Germany, its biggest economy, expecting the arrival of up to a million asylum seekers in 2015 alone.

The WFP, which requires US$26 million a week to feed the four million refugees residing in countries bordering on Syria, earlier cut back its food rations to 1.3 million people due to a funding shortage in 2014.

At an emergency summit in Brussels in late September, EU leaders pledged at least one billion euros (S$1.52 billion) more to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, its World Food Programme and other agencies, and an increase in funding for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries.

Governments remain the WFP's traditional donors, but the organisation is also looking into other means of financing its growing need for support to help feed Syrian refugees.

"We currently work with 20,000 children at Zaatari camp in the north of Jordan and distribute school food in order to break the vicious circle of hunger and a lack of education," Mr Sebastian Stricker, founder of the app, told Reuters.

WFP communications officer Shada Moghraby, who works in Zaatari refugee camp, said many of the 85,000 Syrians there were "massively affected" by the food cuts and so had risked their lives to travel to Europe, adding:

"I think it's a confluence of factors that led to refugees heading for Europe, but the cuts in WFP assistance were for sure the thing that broke the camel's back."