9 July 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on World Food Programme’s Operations in Syria

 


The World Food Programme (WFP) needed $27 million every week to feed 7 million Syrians who were going hungry because of the civil war, according to the head of the Agency’s operations in the area.


Briefing journalists at United Nations Headquarters today, Muhannad Hadi, Emergency Coordinator for the WFP in Syria, said, “if people in Syria don’t get food from the WFP, they simply will not eat”.


He called for donors to continue providing support to ensure that basic needs were met, pointing out that food prices in the country had “skyrocketed” to prohibitively expensive levels, and that mothers and children were completely dependent on deliveries from the WFP.  “It’s as bad as that,” he said.


Although the team planned their trips to deliver food extensively, finalizing destinations, routes, loads and security arrangements well before departure, they also faced many impediments to their work.


“In Syria, you don’t take anything for granted,” he said, adding that “there are many things that change overnight, so plans stay flexible”.


Local staff members were often unable to report for duty, while the team was often confined to their offices because of gun battles or bomb explosions, he explained.  If they did get on the road, they might face new checkpoints, which would slow progress or even prevent them from reaching their destinations.


In Homs, convoys had to pass through up to 50 checkpoints, and were unable to reach Al-Haldiya, despite it being just three or four kilometres from WFP’s office in the city.  Muadamiya, located just five kilometres from the agency’s warehouses in Damascus, had been inaccessible for the past month because of fighting in the area.  Although operating in all 14 of Syria’s governorates, the WFP still could not reach every location.


Nonetheless, he continued, the team crossed Government and rebel lines every day, often operating in insecure areas and often getting caught in crossfire between the two sides.  June was the first month in which half the areas to which the team delivered food were controlled by opposition forces.


As the war continued, the logistical challenge grew, he said, pointing out that the number of beneficiaries within Syria would “definitely increase” from 3 million to 4 million by October, making for an even more costly operation.


The WFP, as well as working with those in Syria, also assisted some 3 million refugees in neighbouring countries, he said, describing the situation at the Al-Zaatari camp in Jordan, where 250,000 pieces of bread were delivered every morning.


Asked whether one side made movement more difficult than the other, Mr. Hadi said the main challenge was posed in areas where fighting was taking place.  That left pockets, or hotspots, unreachable in each of Syria’s 14 governorates.


Responding to a question about the role of Friends of Syria in supporting the WFP, he said he hoped non-traditional donors would come forward alongside the more traditional.  On a follow-up question about whether it was possible to broker a ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, Mr. Hadi said ceasefire negotiation was not within the remit of the WFP.  Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, drew attention to a statement of the Secretary-General calling on all parties to respect Ramadan.


Asked whether there could be competition for donations coming from areas to which Syrian refugees had fled, he said he did not think so, and added that the WFP was a neutral body, which distributed food according to need.


As for food delivery to Aleppo, in light of the fighting there, he said June’s rations had been dispatched and July’s batch was expedited to ensure that, if fighting did intensify there, at least there would be food.


He replied, to a further question, that he worked with all parties and stakeholders to try to gain as much access as possible in the difficult circumstances, but acknowledged that he was not always successful.


Asked whether the WFP needed safe passage from neighbouring countries, he said his team crossed “lines”, rather than borders, everyday.  Although food arrived in Lebanon and Jordan, it was dispatched to the 14 governorates from logistics hubs within Syria itself.  Any cross-border operations were for the Security Council to decide.


On the situation in Lebanon, he said to another query, efforts there were limited because need was lower.  Nonetheless, he was trying to reach the population with food until the crisis ended.


Concerning the packages for feeding families, he said those were designed to meet the needs, and included wheat flour, rice, pasta, beans, oil, sugar and sometimes, other items.  Canned beans were easier to work with than dry beans, he added.


Asked about stories from the field, he said it always broke his heart to see people at a distribution point who saw the trucks coming, not sure if there would be enough to feed them all.  He knew they were considering whether they would be missed that day, whether others would share their rations.  That was heartbreaking, he said, but seeing a family leave with their basket of food was really rewarding.


Asked about the gap between funding and the target for weekly needs, he said the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan allotted $1.1billion for the WFP, but that it had received only $300 million.  Though he was grateful, he was still $700 million short of what was needed.  He thanked the United States, Kuwait, United Kingdom and other European Union countries, among others, and informed correspondents that the list was on the WFP website along with the donation amounts.


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For information media • not an official record