Since the beginning of July, WFP has reached more than 40,000 people in and around the embattled city of Aleppo with food supplies. But here, as in many parts of Syria, insecurity is a major challenge. From Damascus, country director Muhannad Hadi gives the low-down on one of WFP’s most complex operations of the moment.
1) What is the scale of the humanitarian needs? Are they still growing?
The humanitarian needs in Syria are considerable and growing by the day. The recent escalation of the conflict in Aleppo and Damascus has caused many more people to flee these areas. These people have been through a lot, some lost their homes and jobs, and others even loved ones. Food assistance is one of their priority needs. We are now targeting 850,000 people and we are ramping up our assistance to reach 1.5 million in the coming months.
2) What’s the situation in Aleppo as regards food aid operations?
Thousands of people have been fleeing the city to outlying rural areas or to other Governorates, especially over the past week. WFP is distributing food to those who have left the city and is making every effort to reach those trapped inside. But sometimes it is impossible to secure a safe passage into the city for our loaded trucks. Despite the challenges, we managed to reach Aleppo city and around 20,000 people there have already received food assistance in the July distribution. In total, over 46,000 people in this governorate have received our food.
3) What is the biggest challenge you are facing?
Insecurity remains the main challenge. There are areas that are considered ‘no go’ for UN staff, which at times hinders distributions and sometimes monitoring. We have procured armoured vehicles, and can now reach areas that were inaccessible before. Our staff on the ground are being adaptable, conducting household interviews by phone and getting information from community-based organizations. They are doing a heroic job in an extremely difficult environment.
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4) How do you manage to distribute food in some of these locations?
WFP is working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent(SARC), which carries out the distributions. Approaches vary depending on the situation. In some places, distribution of food rations take place at SARC branches. In hot spot areas, SARC staff reach people through door-to-door distributions. In other locations, SARC gets help from local committees and charities.
5) How is the food transported?
Once the food is in Syria, it is transported by WFP rented trucks to our Damascus warehouse for packaging before it is ready to be dispatched to the different Syrian governorates.
6) How do you decide who gets the food aid?
We are assisting families in all 14 Syrian governorates, targeting those living in areas most affected by the conflict. To ensure the most vulnerable people get our food assistance, we focus on: people in or near ‘hot spot’ areas; people who have relocated to safer areas and the families hosting them; and poor people in urban and rural areas affected by the economic situation.
7) What sort of food are you giving people?
The monthly food basket provides two thirds of overall daily food requirements. It contains rice, bulgur wheat, pasta, oil, white beans, sugar, salt, and canned meat. Special foods will be added to the basket in the next months to avoid children malnutrition.
8) What about Syrians who have fled into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq?
WFP has launched a regional emergency operation to cover the food needs of up to 120,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. We are using vouchers which people can use to buy their own food from nearby shops. The voucher system has already started in some areas in Lebanon and Jordan and will start soon in Iraq and Turkey.
9) Is there anything you have seen that brings home to you the importance of this operation?
Something that may sound simple but extremely rewarding is to see the different smiles on the ground when witnessing distribution of our food assistance to the beneficiaries. The smiles of our staff and volunteers delivering food assistance shows sincere satisfaction and pride at being able to help the needy people, while the smiles of the beneficiaries show their gratefulness and relief for receiving assistance in these difficult times.