Where there is war there is hunger. This holds true with the conflict now taking place in Syria. The UN World Food Programme, the largest food aid organization, is currently feeding 1.5 million Syrians displaced within their own country.
Hundreds of thousands of other Syrians who fled to neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are also receiving aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, “conditions in Syria continue to deteriorate as the Assad regime relentlessly wages war on its own people.”
The longer the fighting continues, hunger will only intensify as the country’s regular food supply systems continue to break down. The World Food Programme, and its partner the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) are the lifeline for saving innocent Syrians from starvation.
Laure Chadraoui, a World Food Programme (WFP) officer, was just on a mission into Syria. She shares her experience in the war-torn country following interview.
You were just in the conflict areas of Syria and met with families. Can you tell us about the impact of this conflict on them to give readers an idea of life in a war zone?
During my recent mission to Syria, I visited Damascus, one area in Rural Damascus and Homs. Talking to displaced people, I saw how shocked they were from what had befallen their country. They still could not believe that this is happening to them. After more than a year and a half, many are in shock. During a door to door distribution of WFP food assistance by Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers in Homs, I saw a woman, in her early 20s, standing at the door of her house, or new shelter is a more accurate description, holding a one year old girl.
She did not ask for anything as I approached to talk to her. When I asked her where she came from, she was in tears before she could say: Khaldiyeh. Khaldieyeh, in the old city of Homs, has endured recently heavy fighting. She had only recently given birth and had to flee with her husband and her newborn baby. Her husband was not at home, she told me, he goes looking for someone to hire him as a daily worker, most of the time to no avail. What she receives from WFP is all she has got to feed her baby. She was not very comfortable telling her story, but her tears told most of it. I imagined, then, that many of these displaced people, lost members of their families, or their homes, or their livelihoods, or maybe all at once. Their lives are shattered. This woman, found a home, in a safe area in Homs, but the sound of explosions and fighting is clear, and she, like many others know it is probably not far from what they used to call “home.”
I met other WFP beneficiaries at public shelters, each family living in a room, that is now the kitchen and the bedroom and the playground. The mattresses lined up on top of each other to give space for the family to sit together is the common image that strikes you everywhere in those shelters. Sometimes more than one family share one room. I met a family with children and a baby no more than 4 months who has taken an empty and unfinished villa as her new shelter. The villa is still under construction, has no doors or windows. That was the best they could find. It looked like it was in the middle of nowhere. Their needs are huge from food to medical care and non-food items. The mother told me, she fled with only the clothes they were wearing. They were poor where she came from but had a roof over their head; we had a decent life and we were happy, she told me. However, it was a relief to see that our food is reaching them and in many ways saving their lives.
Are children at risk of physically and mentally damaging malnutrition in Syria and are there going to be enough food supplies and access to prevent this?
It was particularly painful to see displaced children. They are not only uprooted from their familiar environment but also from their schools. WFP is working closely with UNICEF to ensure children’s nutritional needs are met. We are importing plumpy doz which is expected in the coming weeks targeting around 100,000 children under 5 years old. WFP is also providing logistic support to other agencies and we have shipped humanitarian supplies on behalf of UNICEF, among others, to different parts of the countries.
How much agricultural land has been harmed by the fighting and what impact will this have going forward?
A Joint Rapid Food Security Needs Assessment mission, conducted in June 2012, by WFP, FAO, and the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform in Syria revealed that the agricultural sector has lost a total of US$1.8 billion this year as a result of the crisis due to losses and damages to crops, livestock and irrigation systems. The assessment has shown that strategic crops, such as wheat and barley, have been badly affected. The findings indicated that 3 million people are in need of food, crop, and livestock assistance such as seeds, food for animals, fuel and repair of irrigation pumps over the next 12 months.
How is the funding level for the Syrian relief mission? And how can people help?
WFP’s operation in Syria is short if US$ 56 million to be able to continue its most needed food assistance to 1.5 million displaced and vulnerable people until the end of the year. Individuals wishing to contribute can also do so by visiting WFP’s official site.
Article first published as Tears Tell Story of Syria: An Interview with Laure Chadraoui on Blogcritics.
Update: The World Food Programme has started a Syria relief fund. Visit the WFP Syria relief fund page.