What began as another Arab Spring uprising against an autocratic ruler in 2011, has exploded into one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. As much as our hearts break for the 13.5 million Syrians affected by a civil war that has killed nearly 300,000 people and displaced 11 million in the four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, we’ve often struggled to follow the complexities of the crisis. Today, we’ve asked our giving partner on the ground in Syria, The World Food Programme, to help us understand what is going on, and how they are helping. Photos: WFP/Joelle Eid & Hussam Al Saleh.
Since fighting broke out between government and opposition forces in March 2011, the crisis in Syria has become the World Food Programme’s largest and most complex emergency worldwide.
The civil war touches families, who, with few options for a better future, increasingly set out on treacherous journeys to foreign lands in search of refuge. Some 4.6 million people from Syria have fled to neighboring countries and beyond because of the war. More than half of the refugees are children.
It touches a generation of children and young people, who deprived of education and traumatized by the horrors they experience, increasingly see a future shaped by violence. It touches those beyond Syria who have seen the violent repercussions of the crisis reach their streets.
WFP’s response in Syria and neighboring countries helps people affected by the conflict, by delivering food and organizing logistics. WFP is funded entirely by voluntary contributions and has to raise 25 million dollars each week to meet basic food needs of people affected by the Syrian conflict.
Delivering Aid Inside Syria
Food insecurity in Syria has reached unprecedented levels where one in three Syrians is severely food insecure, which means they either do not have sufficient food to eat or will soon run out of options to meet their basic food needs.
Food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. However, in Syria, the three main elements of food security – food availability, food access, and food utilization – have been severely compromised by the devastating impact of the conflict. Years of conflict have had a cumulative effect not just on the country’s economy but also on livelihoods and people’s capacity to cope.
Food production has fallen 40 percent below pre-crisis levels, and trade routes have been disrupted, affecting food supplies and availability on the market. At the household level, high unemployment and rapidly rising inflation has made food significantly less affordable even when available.
Today, WFP provides food assistance to over 4 million people across Syria, through over 40 local partner organizations who distribute food on WFP’s behalf across the country. In 2015, WFP delivered food assistance to about 3.2 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in various parts of the country through cross border, cross line and regular deliveries. Currently, 25 percent of WFP’s monthly assistance is delivered to civilians that are living in areas that are subject to access restrictions.
Apart from regular food distributions inside the country, WFP has also started locally producing date bars provided to primary school children in Rural Damascus, Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Tartous and Al Hasakeh governorates. This allows WFP to invest in the education of Syria’s next generation while enhancing local food production capacities, creating employment and stimulating the local economy. Between October and December of 2015, WFP increased its support to children under the age of five with supplementary feeding products to prevent malnutrition, assisting children in eight Syrian governorates. WFP is also running a nutrition program for pregnant women and nursing mothers inside Syria, helping them buy fresh produce, dairy and meat products to supplement their diets. Women in Homs and Lattakia receive food vouchers to help them buy locally available fresh products and improve their dietary diversity.
Delivering Aid to Syrian Refugees
WFP is helping Syrian refugees, many of them children, in transit centers and camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey by providing them food and daily nutrition. We have seen that, increasingly, Syrians arrive with little more than the clothes they are wearing, having suffered months of food insecurity due to the high cost of living and lack of employment opportunities in Syria. As fighting intensifies in the border regions, refugees are forced to walk longer distances through the desert to find a safe passage to neighboring countries.
Upon arrival at a transit center, most refugees receive welcome meals, which provide a daily food ration to cover the period between their arrival in the center and their transfer to a camp.
Once in camp, refugees receive electronic food vouchers. These are pre-paid debit cards that can be used to buy foods of choice in local shops. The vouchers also provide the added benefit of supporting the local economies where the refugees are residing.
In addition to food vouchers and daily fresh bread, WFP implements school feeding programs in the camps. For example, within the Al Za’atri camp in Jordan, WFP provides food to both formal and informal schools, through its partner Save the Children. The program is designed to increase enrolment and attendance by providing children with a nutritious daily snack. By addressing short-term hunger, the snacks also help students to concentrate in class.
In November 2015, WFP launched a new mobile phone app, which provides an easy way to share a meal with a Syrian refugee child. Users can participate whenever they want and wherever they are. They can “share” their meals while having dinner with friends or eating lunch at the office! Even a donation as small as 50 US cents will provide a child with vital nutrition for a day. Contributions will benefit Syrian refugee children in Jordan who are part of WFP’s school meals program. More information can be found here.