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The Islamic Republic of Iran, a lower-middle-income country with a population of 85 million, is hosting one of the largest and most protracted refugee populations in the world. The has hosted at least 1 million refugees for the past 40 years. The vast majority of them, mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq, live in urban areas, with roughly 4 percent of the most vulnerable living in 20 settlements across the country.

Limited job opportunities, no access to farming land and a ban on keeping livestock mean that refugees living in settlements are unable to fully meet their food needs. Poorly diversified diets and harmful practices – such as skipping meals or eating cheap, unhealthy foods or too much sugar – often lead to chronic health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing food assistance to refugees in Iran since 1987. In 2018, WFP replaced part of its food distributions with cash assistance. While families continue to receive a small amount of wheat flour, the bulk of the assistance is in cash, which can be spent in shops and markets inside the settlements. This combined assistance is preferred by refugees, providing them with choice while improving their diets. Cash also boosts the economy of the settlements, as the majority of the shops where refugees buy their food are run by refugees themselves.

WFP has made great progress in reducing the gender gap and in empowering young refugee girls through its flagship education-incentive scheme. Through this initiative, girls receive money after each month of school attendance, allowing them to contribute to the household economy while receiving an education. In 2020, WFP introduced a school feeding programme for both refugee girls and boys, and their teachers, with a healthy midday snack ensuring no child has an empty stomach. More than 80 percent of school-aged girls are now enrolled and attending school regularly, up from 30 percent at the beginning of the project almost two decades ago. 

In another shift from its traditional approach in the country, WFP also supports a variety of income-generating activities to improve refugees’ self-reliance. These activities also equip people with skills to secure a sustainable means of income when it is safe enough to return to their countries.

Although WFP’s intervention is focused mainly on assisting refugees, the organization has the operational capacity to support the Government in emergency response. WFP has become a partner of choice in responding to sudden-onset emergencies that exceed national response capacity, standing ready to mobilize at the Government’s request.

WFP also promotes debate about hunger and Sustainable Development Goal 2, engaging with the public through opinion makers and celebrities who lend their voices to the cause of zero hunger.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Iran

Food assistance to refugees
Through a combination of cash and in-kind assistance, WFP covers 80 percent of the daily food needs for food-insecure, male-headed households and 100 percent for female-headed households, through ATM debit cards. The cash component gives refugees both purchasing power and freedom of choice in buying food. This in turn boosts the economy of settlements, as the majority of the shops where people buy their food are also run by refugees. The cash is supplemented by wheat flour/bread distributions, ensuring refugees have access to this staple diet at all times.
School feeding
Iran’s nutritious school snacks programme consists of daily milk, biscuits and date bars, targeting 8,000 refugee girls and boys and 600 teachers at primary and secondary schools throughout the nine months of each school year. The programme not only helps the education and nutrition of children but also boosts families’ finances, freeing up money to be spent on other needs.
WFP supports a variety of livelihood activities for refugees. Tailoring workshops, greenhouses, welding workshops, bakeries and fish farming are among the livelihood opportunities WFP has made available to refugee women and men.
Cash transfers and other services to partners
WFP offers its cash transfer platform to partners who also provide this type of support to refugees in settlements. If requested by UNHCR and other humanitarian partners, WFP, as sector lead for logistics, can facilitate coordination and offer expertise on service provision in warehousing and transport of humanitarian items, in response to any potential new influxes of refugees.

Partners and donors

Achieving Zero Hunger is the work of many. Our work in Iran is made possible by the support and collaboration of our partners and donors, including:



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