What it Takes to Deliver Food in Syria: WFP Staffer on the Ground Tells His Story
Since the start of the WFP emergency operation in Syria back in August 2011, we haved moved over 11,000 trucks loaded with food across the country. Yet sometimes our trucks are caught in the crossfire or stopped at checkpoints run by unknown militants. Every day, WFP makes difficult decisions, and has often managed to secure the release of confiscated trucks and food, feeding thousands of vulnerable families each month.
by Laure Chadraoui
To deliver food in such a complex and high risk operation is a big achievement every single day, if not a miracle. The WFP team in Syria is up to the challenge. Each WFP staff member has an expertise, and a role to fulfill. In this operating environment, they do not rest until they are certain the food has successfully crossed the many insecure areas and reached its destination.
Muhamad is the Senior Logistics Assistant responsible for transport and contracting. His role is to ensure the arrival of food commodities for packaging and after the trucks are loaded with food boxes, he ensures that the trucks reach the distribution centres. Amidst all the dangers on the roads, Muhamad’s job is not the easiest.
“To follow up on the dispatched food after departure from our warehouses is a daily challenge. Phone calls seldom get through and in some areas it is impossible to call at all. This can be a nightmare when you know that the trucks went through areas that are considered dangerous,” he explains. “Sometimes we don’t know for days if the trucks have reached their destination safely or not.”
Forty year-old Muhamad has been working for WFP since 2003. He took part in the WFP emergency operation for Iraqi refugees and was there when the current conflict started. While many of his national colleagues and friends left the country, Muhamad decided to stay.
“First of all it is my country, and it is not an easy decision for anyone to leave his country. Second, through my work with WFP, I'm serving my own people and my own country as a humanitarian worker,” he says. “This crisis has taught me that I am able to work under a lot of stress and amid high risks to respond to humanitarian needs and that I'm willing to do what it takes to ensure the arrival of humanitarian assistance to the people we serve.”
That is exactly what Muhamad did the day a WFP warehouse in rural Damascus became unreachable. The area was considered as hot spot, or a ‘no-go’ in UN language. The warehouse was full of urgently needed food commodities and Muhamad was appointed as a focal point for this ‘rescue operation’.
“We managed to rescue more than 95% of the food from that warehouse,” he proudly and happily recounts. Muhamad lives in Damascus with his wife and three children. He takes a 15-minute walk to the WFP office every day. Luckily, he didn’t have to move as many of his co-workers did when their area became too dangerous, but the conflict is never too far away. “I live in a relatively safe area, but as you know with those mortars and car bomb attacks, no area in Damascus is safe anymore,” he says.
Despite its dangers, Muhamad finds his job fulfilling and highly rewarding. He doesn’t lose hope, although the future seems uncertain. “I am married to a great woman who is very supportive and bears my long absences due to long working hours, including during holidays. But I'm worried as a father. When my kids go to school, no one can anticipate when or where a mortar or an explosive car can hit. Few weeks ago, mortars landed near the school where my kids go… but I'm sure that the future of Syria will be bright and prosperous.”
Top left photo: WFP food being offloaded inside Syria. Copyright: WFP/Abeer Etefa; Bottom right photo: A WFP food convoy ready for delivery leaves a warehouse in rural Damascus. Copyright: WFP