Short of cash, U.N. cuts Syria refugees' rations again

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Food Programme, running short of cash, will halve the value of food vouchers given to Syrian refugees in Lebanon this month and may cut all help for 440,000 Syrians in Jordan next month, the U.N. agency said on Wednesday. "Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts," Muhannad Hadi, WFP's Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, said in a statement. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.” United Nations aid agencies said last week that a $4.5 billion appeal to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 was less than a quarter funded, putting millions of vulnerable people at risk, and had already led to cuts in vital assistance. The shortfall has meant 1.6 million refugees have had food assistance cut this year and 750,000 children are not attending school, the agencies and partner organizations said, calling on countries to deliver on their pledges. WFP said Syrian refugees in Lebanon would now get $13.50 to spend on food in the month of July. The organization needs $139 million to keep helping almost 4 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey until September. WFP said its global contributions rose by 27 percent in 2014, but the unprecedented number of humanitarian emergencies - including Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the West African countries hit by Ebola - meant its needs were rising even faster, and continued to outpace available funding. Syria's conflict is now in its fifth year and has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced around half of the population. U.N. aid agencies have described it as one of the worst refugee crises since World War Two. The United Nations predicts there will be 4.27 million Syrian refugees in the region by the end of 2015. U.N. funds also aim to help more than 20 million local people in communities hosting refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. (Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)