Syrian Refugees Overwhelm World Food Program's Resources
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
For several years now, almost everything that has happened in Syria has produced more refugees. The other day, ISIS attacked a Kurdish zone, and thousands of Kurds fled across the border to Turkey. Then, the U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes - more refugees. The United Nations World Food Program is leading the efforts to feed millions of displaced people. But the program is running out of funds. We spoke with Muhannad Hadi, the WFP's emergency coordinator for Syria, about the scale of the crisis they're facing.
MUHANNAD HADI: The problem is we don't have enough funds to continue supporting the people inside Syria and in the neighboring countries. It's very unfortunate. The Syrian people are totally dependent on the World Food Program. Millions of people are now dependent on the World Food Program to feed them. And they sort of exhausted all their assets, all their savings. And they're now going into a negative coping mechanism.
INSKEEP: What is a negative coping mechanism?
HADI: Well, many of the people there have cut down on the number of meals they have a day. They're living on one or two meals, let alone that the quality of food they're eating is really not sufficient, especially for children - doesn't provide them with all the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for their growth. But once you're down on the field, once you look at the faces of the parents who have been suffering from this crisis - and the children - for more than three years now, what else can they do? You know, people cannot borrow from each other. There are no functioning markets in many places. People don't have credit cards to buy on. Many of them have no job opportunities. They're already living in difficult conditions. And now, with no food, I honestly can't imagine what's going to happen to those families.
INSKEEP: Assuming that your funding stays as it is, what will you be doing with food supplies over the next couple of months. And what will that mean for the average person in a refugee camp?
HADI: I would just like you to imagine one thing. What would a mother tell her children - sorry, you cannot eat tonight? You know, let's hope next month you'll get food? That all boils down to this - no funding for the World Food Program, millions of people will not eat. It's a sad story, and it's going from bad to worse.
INSKEEP: Talk me through the calories, here. How many calories does the average person need? How many are you providing each day right now? And what are you going to cut that to?
HADI: Well, the minimum an average person needs is 2,100 kilocalories. Now we're reducing by 40 percent inside Syria. And if we don't get funds in November, we go down less. And in December, we probably wouldn't have anything to give those people. And the sad thing also - now we have an improved access. Last month, we reached more than 4 million people. This month, hopefully, we'll also reach 4.25 million people. So while we're having more access inside the country, we don't have the food to deliver.
INSKEEP: That figure of over 4 million people, is that inside and outside Syria or just within Syria?
HADI: Within Syria only we have reached more than 4.21 million. All in all, we're going to reach 6 million people in Syria and neighboring countries. It's a huge, massive operation. Each month, we have more than 3,000 to 4,000 trucks just running all over the place. We have sub offices in the heart of Homs, in Aleppo, in Qamishli. And we're ready to deliver. We have built up this program from scratch. And at this moment, it's very sad to see the whole thing just collapse because we don't have food to feed the people.
INSKEEP: You just mentioned some cities where there has been serious fighting or where serious fighting continues. Have you yourself been involved in some of the discussions with the warring sides to ensure that your trucks could get through in recent months?
HADI: Absolutely. This is part of our daily work. I'll give you an example. Traveling from Damascus to Homs, you probably are stopped by more than 40 or 50 checkpoints. Some of them, we know who they are. Others, we don't know who they are. And we just have to negotiate our way.
INSKEEP: Answer to this question may not be obvious. Of all the crises, including refugee crises in the world right now, is Syrian the worst?
HADI: Well, Syria definitely is the most complex. And it's one of the biggest crises that the World Food Program has had to face.
INSKEEP: Muhannad Hadi is the emergency coordinator for the World Food Program in Syria. Thanks very much.
HADI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.