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Flexibility in US food aid to Syria should be the rule – not the exception

In Syria, the US has been able to deliver food aid using a flexible approach to needs on the ground. Yet such flexibility is the exception in US aid. President Obama's proposed reforms would allow for more efficient practices, such as using local food supplies.

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A convoy formed by a delegation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent carries humanitarian aid as vehicles drive in Aleppo's countryside in Syria Jan. 30. Op-ed contributors Helene D. Gayle and Raymond C. Offenheiser write that food aid reforms in President Obama's proposed 2014 budget 'will enable [US food aid] to reach even more people and make an even larger impact.'

Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters/file

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The Syria regional humanitarian crisis has affected 8.3 million people. Many require urgent food assistance, and the situation is worsening

But the food crisis for people in Syria – and for those who have fled – is not  just a challenge of food availability. The conflict has brought a sharp drop in domestic food production, and many hungry people simply can no longer afford to buy food because prices are too high or their livelihoods have been wiped away by war. Millions have been forced to leave their homes, and food prices have skyrocketed, reportedly as much as 200 percent in some areas.

In crises like these, our organizations – CARE USA and Oxfam America – have learned that meeting humanitarian needs requires the flexibility to ensure good intentions result in positive outcomes. The United States is the largest donor for emergency food assistance in Syria. A substantial portion of that assistance has been provided through cash, vouchers, and by buying food locally and regionally through something called the Emergency Food Security Program.

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