The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has frozen more than $ 200 million in contracts for Syrian humanitarian aid, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The situation likely means that starving and sick people in Syria, which has been racked by war since 2011, will find it harder to obtain the food, clothing and medicine they need to survive.
USAID, a US government agency in charge of assisting countries struggling with poverty, natural disasters, or “transitions to democracy,” has received at least 116 complaints of abuse of USAID funds related to the US government’s Syria response since February 2015, said Ann Calvaresi Barr, USAID’s inspector general, in a statement to the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs earlier this month.
The agency has opened 25 investigations in response to the complaints, said Barr in the statement. The fraud schemes identified by USAID involve “substitution of food and non-food items” and inflated billing, she said.
Syria is unsafe for Westerners to access, and it seems that USAID’s dependence on third-party organizations to deliver aid to dangerous parts of the country is what may have given fraudsters an opening to exploit.
“Instabilities in the region create challenges… and the agency relies on implementing partners to get goods and services to where they are needed most,” Barr said.
Four hospitals were bombed in Aleppo over the weekend and are now out of service, a group of Syrian doctors said on Sunday. Since the Syrian army made gains in northeastern Aleppo earlier this month, it has tightened its siege on the city, which was the largest in Syria before the war.
Food prices have soared since then, and medical supplies have decreased to “alarming levels,” Human Rights Watch warned on Friday.