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645741
03/24/2015 - 13:02

Arriving at the camp of Sayam Forage, home to about 1,000 Nigerian refugees, we find Fatma sitting on a bag of rice, under an open tent with fluttering plastic sheets. Despite the wind, the air is hot. It is dusty. It envelops you instantly; you feel your arms heavy, your eyes struggle against the blazing sun.

Fleeing In The Night To Escape The Militia

Next to Fatma, there are other women with children, and some elderly men. They are all waiting patiently for their turn to approach WFP’s food distribution point.

Fatma has already received her monthly food ration. She is just waiting for help to carry it back home. Home is a tent - one of about 1,000 dotting the arid, desert land - where she has been living for 40 days. 

What  made her come here? 
[story|645167|645063|645226]“Fighting,” she says. “My husband myself and all our children were rounded up on a Monday morning and kept captive for three nights. We knew we had to leave. It wasn’t safe. We left in the middle of the night. One of the children was ill, but we had to leave even him in that state. He’s a child we’ve been looking after but he has family in Niger, and once we arrived, we were forced to leave him with his relatives. Here, we are safe at least. We’ve been getting food, and we are being looked after.”

Under her orange headscarf, Fatma’s big, brown, moist eyes are in constant motion, running this way and that, as if searching for a way out or a solution. She speaks quickly as if she's been waiting all along for you to come and hear her out, and forces herself to smile from time to time. 

Her youngest, a two month old, is sitting on her lap – visibly tired and distressed. Sweat is pouring down her head and face and her eyes are teary.
Sweat is also pouring down the faces of the staff – of WFP and its partners, ACTED and APBE (a local NGO). The distribution area is teeming with staff and refugees; women, men and teenage boys. Oil is being poured into canisters, while millet, spread out on the floor, is being scooped up in bags.
 

At the entrance, a boy lifts a bag of rice onto his narrow shoulders and passes smiling shyly, heading to his family’s tent.

Receiving WFP Food For The First Time

[quote|"There is nothing to go back to...I'm glad we received the rations today"]Fatouma – a widow with four children - has just received her ration. Her two teenage boys help carry the load home, their faces and dark T-shirts covered in dust.

They are newcomers, having arrived just last week, and this is the first time they have received a full ration. Fatouma says that she’s been trying to escape for months. A few weeks ago, she crossed the border by herself, leaving her children on the other side. She wanted to find a safe place first, a home where she could bring the children to. As fighting escalated along the border, fearing for her children’s safety, she went back. They were already on the move, and she met them on the road.

“So far, we feel safe here. We will stay. There is nothing to go back to…Food has been lacking since we’ve been here. I’m glad we received the rations today. I’ll go back and start preparing a meal.”

Asked if she likes cooking, she says ‘yes’. While both women were clearly grateful for the food rations they’ve just received, they spoke dearly of the things they miss from home – their spices, their pots and pans. They were forced to flee with only their clothes on their back. They need clothes and shoes.

Their basic needs are met – there is food, water, medical assistance yet their lives are hard.  You wonder what it would be like as the weather gets harsher, the temperature higher.  

Leaving the camp, we come across  three UNHCR trucks. They are bringing more refugees to the camp – up to 100. There are up to 100 new refugees arriving every second day.

Help From Donors Is Crucial

Along the areas of  Niger, Cameroon, Chad that border Nigeria, stories like those of Fatma and Fatouma are sadly too common -- of families torn apart, seeking protection and shelter in camps and with host communities, predicting a future just as uncertain and disrupted as their recent past.

On 11 March, WFP provided vital food assistance to about 1,000 refugees – enough food to cover their needs for one month. The rations comprised millet, oil, pulses, salt, cereal and super cereal for the prevention of malnutrition for children under five years old. 

Mothers are taught how to use the super cereal properly in cooking lessons .The nutritional state of the newly arrived children is poor and without help, it can only worsen. 

WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa, Denise Brown, says donors’ contribution is critical to meet the urgent and growing needs.
 

[donation-form]Last month, WFP provided essential food assistance to nearly 40,000 refugees, returnees, internally displaced and people from the host communities in the Diffa region.
For more info visit our Nigeria crisis page 

The only way to reach Sayam Forage, in a desert area of Niger's eastern edge, is on a bumpy road that never ends. Dusty shrubs flick by. The sameness of the landscape is hypnotic until we finally reach our destination, some 50 kilometres from the border with Nigeria.

645752
03/24/2015 - 11:58
Climate Change

Essna, LUXOR – Mohamed Mansour, like the majority of the population in his village in southern Egypt, depends on the little income he gets through farming the little patch of land he owns. With four children, all attending school, he could barely make ends meet until he decided to do things differently.

Less than two years ago Mansour attended a seminar that helped him take the mere quarter of an acre he owned a lot further. “They talked to us about different methods to follow when planting crops and new seeds to use to withstand climate changes,” said Mansour.

Mansour, 48, was among 16,000 other farmers participating in a WFP-supported project that helps farmers change the age-old ways they have been going about their businesses. Mansour planted his wheat crop this year with newly introduced techniques that included seeds with thicker stem as well as more spacing for air circulation. He also followed a new irrigation schedule and different chemical treatments. “It was all new to me and I was worried what the end-result would be,” he said.

New Ways, Better Days

These new techniques though gave Mansours’ crops the strength to withstand the lodging effects of wind and extreme weather spells. “My crops survived a weather shock last March that destroyed many fields in neighbouring lands,” explained Mansour whose field was used as a model to demonstrate to other farmers the benefits of following these new farming methods and tools.

Mansour’s harvest had noticeably improved as well. “When they compared my harvest to my cousin’s, the difference was huge,” added Mansour.

He learned all those new techniques through seminars and live demonstrations in model fields as well as technical support through experts working on the project.
This four-year project is helping 137,000 farmers in five governorates in southern Egypt withstand climate change. The US$6.9 million project will potentially benefit 1.71 million people in Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor and Aswan. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) funded the project that supports the government in its research on climate adapting seeds that can help farmers overcome destructive climate changes.

“It is very difficult introducing new concepts to farmers who are used to one way of doing things for many years. Most of these farmers have not had any schooling and follow the practices of their great grandparents. Practices that can no longer cope with the climate changes the world is currently facing,” explained WFP Egypt’s Head of Rural Development Unit Ithar Kahlil.

Climate change is a serious threat to smallholder farmers in Upper Egypt, one of the country’s poorest areas. Extreme heat waves usually have a devastating impact on their harvests and consequently their incomes throughout the year. In 2013, WFP launched a four-year project in partnership with the government to help farmers in southern Egypt cope with harsh weather conditions.

645750
03/24/2015 - 10:35

These nine-year old girls look forward to a daily meal at their school in Mao. School meals boost attendance and help children concentrate in the classroom.

Mariam, one of the girls who enjoys a daily meal at primary school, also receives a monthly ration of vegetable oil - a valuable commodity in the Sahel - to take home to her family. The proportion of girls graduating from schools supported by WFP is 2.5 times higher than the national average.

Boys escape the searing heat of the sun under a tree as they share their daily school meal. The Ecole de Mao Centre, was founded in 1911, and the school began its feeding programme in 1985.

Ladifa walks 45 minutes every morning to come to school in Mao. At around 10 a.m. she is happy to have her first meal of the day. She is one of 557 girls studying at the Ecole de Mao Centre.

The school kitchen is run by Fatima and three colleagues, who provide a meal for more than 1,800 students every day. The school has eight classrooms, a kitchen, and a food warehouse.  


The school meals programme increases attendance and helps children to learn.  This year there are 1227 boys and 557 girls at the school. School meals offer parents an incentive to send their daughters to school and keep them there, thus reducing the gender literacy gap.

From next year, Kadija will also benefit from a dry ration that she can take home to her family. Her father says the cost savings will help him buy two goats to feed his family.

The school canteen is also a chance for some fun: a social activity that creates and strengthens school cohesion. 

Abdoulaye Seid Abakar (left), Fatimé Brahim Youssouf, (second from left), Zara Adoum Mahamat Nour (standing), and Fatimé Hissein Youssouf (front right); thank Canada for the dry ration that the girls bring home from school to their families.

 

Photos: WFP/Miguel Tomas

Chad suffers from chronic food insecurity. Conflict in Nigeria and other neighbouring countries has led to an influx of 450,000 refugees, placing more pressure on food supplies and disrupting local agricultural production.  WFP is working with Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) to provide hot meals for school children in Mao, in the country's Sahel region.

645700
03/20/2015 - 15:19

1. More than 2 million people have fled their homes – to other places in South Sudan or to neighbouring countries – as a result of conflict that erupted in the world’s youngest nation in December 2013.

2. A huge humanitarian effort helped stave off a famine in South Sudan in 2014 and WFP was a lead organization in this effort. The agency dispatched 190,000 metric tonnes of food by air, river and road and assisted 2.5 million people in the country last year. 

3. About 2.5 million people have started this year unsure of where their next meal is coming from, and WFP fears the situation will get worse with the start of the lean season in May.

4. WFP aims to assist some 3 million people in South Sudan this year, including lifesaving emergency assistance for the conflict-affected, nutrition support for mothers and children, food assistance for refugees, school meals, and asset-creation initiatives aimed at helping communities improve their food security and resilience.

5. South Sudan is one of the world’s most challenging environments for humanitarian work, with almost half the country becoming inaccessible when heavy rains start in May.

6. WFP has a 3-month window to strategically pre-position more than 100,000 metric tons of food before the rains in places that would become inaccessible for at least six months. This represents more than 6,500 truck trips.

7. Conflict continues to threaten food security in the three most-affected states, where almost 80 percent of the population was unable to grow their staple crop (sorghum) in the last planting season.

8. Even before the current conflict, 50.6% of South Sudan’s population lived below the poverty line.   

9. Almost 11 million people live in South Sudan. Of those, 2.5 million people are unsure where their next meal will come from. 

10. About 60% of South Sudan is inaccessible by road during the rainy season, complicating relief efforts by WFP and other agencies

[story|645572|645470|645219|645133|645056|644939|644801|644709|644415|644341|643880]

Here are ten key facts about the hunger crisis in South Sudan where WFP continues to provide food by any means possible to those in need.

645619
03/19/2015 - 07:28

Zeinab has known life only as a refugees. The Afghan young woman was born twenty years ago in Iran’s Shahid Nasery settlement in Saveh and has lived there ever since. Now, as she bends over her sewing machine her life flashes across her mind.

She was less than ten when she found herself her family’s sole earner after an accident left her father unable to work. Having lost her mother at the early age of five she had already been taking care of her two younger sisters. For Zeinab, getting basic education was only a dream.

“My father allowed me to attend primary school only because of the four litres of oil I took home every month,” she said. “Although I was not able to continue my education after finishing primary school, but at least I learned how to read and write.”

Four Litres Of Oil Going A Long Way

Three years ago she participated in a sewing workshop an Iranian NGO organized inside the settlement. She now earns a lot more money than she could have ever hoped for.

“When the NGO said only those who can read and write will be able to attend the workshop, I realized the value of those four litres of oil,” she said. “I was able to participate in the workshop only because of all the good work of WFP”.

Around 3,000 refugee schoolgirls and their female teachers in 19 settlements across Iran receive a take-home ration of sunflower oil as an incentive to encourage girls’ education among the refugee community. WFP school feeding programme plays a big part in a households’ decision to send their girls to school.

WFP has been implementing an oil-for-girls-education programme since 1999 that has proven to have wide impact on the lives of refugees and their future.

 

Because Zeinab could read and write, she is now a proud seamstress who earns a lot more money than she could have ever hoped for. More than ten years after she had participated in WFP school meals programme, she continues to get the extended benefits of the vegetable oil ration she used to take home in exchange for attending school.

645665
03/18/2015 - 16:26

Since 2014, Binta has participated in the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative which is helping her better manage her natural resources and cope with more frequent droughts. The aim is to ensure food is on the table all year long, while also expanding her sources of income. 

The first assessment of the programme in Ethiopia shows that female participants are the ones obtaining the greatest gains in productivity. Now, two recent studies further show how the programme is strengthening women’s ability to adapt to climate change and secure their families’ food security and livelihoods through a combination of risk management activities which reduce the impact of weather uncertainty, and the damage when a disaster does hit.

A woman tends to her vegetable garden
A woman tends to her vegetable garden in Senegal. (Photo:WFP/Fabio Bedini)

[quote|"Women are the central pillar of family and economic life in rural Senegal."]Women are the central pillar of family and economic life in rural Senegal. They take care of children and the home. They are also farmers and traders, contributing substantially to the agricultural and economic activities of the household despite their often limited access to resources such as land and equipment. 

Women Are More Vulnerable to Climate Shocks

Yet, women are often more vulnerable to climate shocks than men. Women lack recognition for the unpaid work they perform. They tend to have higher rates of illiteracy which limits their ability to access more profitable income generation opportunities. Women are often more vulnerable to malnutrition. They also have fewer coping strategies available because they are less mobile and lack access to resources. 

R4 Reduces Women’s Vulnerability And Empowers Them

The two studies conducted by the Institute of Development Studies and Oxfam America found that R4 is reducing women’s vulnerability and contributing to their empowerment enabling them to improve their families’ income and food security in the following ways:

•    Women report increased access to land, seeds and water for irrigation and drinking.
•    They benefit from training in numeracy, literacy and business which open opportunities in terms of access to credit and financial instruments. 
•    With more food and water available, they no longer have to travel far from home, gaining time to dedicate to their families and small businesses.
•     In turn, this makes them more confident about their ability to feed their children, pay school fees and other expenses through small financial gains.

How is R4 doing it?

Binta Ndao is part of Oxfam America’s Saving for Change programme, on which R4’s savings component is built. Her story shows how R4 is enabling women farmers to cope with climate risk by establishing small-scale savings. These act as a buffer against short-term needs and other shocks, such as illness and death. Her gains, as well those of other women, have been possible thanks to practices developed through the R4 initiative, including:

•    Equal participation of men and women in village-level planning and management committees. This has led to better identification of participants and their needs. For example, the division of labor on community disaster risk reduction activities was made on a consensual basis, with men devoted to tasks that require more physical strength. 
•    Inclusion of activities explicitly targeting women, such as the development of vegetable gardens, the improvement of rice cultivation, and the creation of savings groups.
•    Inclusion of men in activities traditionally reserved to women such as savings groups, which increase household resources and solidarity between men and women. 

“I really appreciate this group,” says Binta talking about the savings group established by R4. “Before I could get these loans, if someone was sick or you had a problem, you did not have any resources.”  For more on Binta, click here

R4 in Senegal

A group of Women participate to a SfC group in Koussanar, Senegal.
A group of Women participate to a SfC group in Koussanar, Senegal. (Photo:WFP/Fabio Bedini)

R4 Senegal started operations in 2013 and today is working with over 5,000 farmers. The program, financed by USAID, Swiss Re and the Government of Norway recently received a $500,000 award from USAID’s prestigious Development Innovation Ventures Program (DIV), to further expand the program in the region of Kolda, Southern Senegal. DIV is an open innovation fund within USAID that sources, tests, and scales breakthrough solutions to global development challenges.

R4, a partnership between WFP and Oxfam America since 2011, has broken new ground in climate risk management by integrating various risk management strategies, including innovative index-based insurance, that enable the poorest farmers to pay for drought insurance with their labour, increasing their food and income security.

The four components of R4 are:
•    Improved resource management through asset creation (risk reduction)
•    Insurance (risk transfer)
•    livelihoods diversification and microcredit (prudent risk taking) and
•    Savings (risk reserves)

“Sometimes there is rain, but it is not well distributed. We lack good quality seed, and termites eat our plants.” These are, in the words of Binta Ndao, a Senegalese farmer and mother of seven, some of the challenges faced by subsistence farmers in Eastern Senegal. An innovative resilience-building initiative implemented by WFP and Oxfam America is helping farmers like her break out of chronic food insecurity.

645654
03/18/2015 - 09:39

Saturday’s Category 5 cyclone took lives, destroyed homes and flattened banana and coconut trees. Led by the Government of Vanuatu, a coordinated humanitarian effort is now underway to help the survivors. 

In the capital, Port Vila, the World Food Programme is helping the government organize distributions of food to survivors, as well as preparing to bring in food and specialists for food distributions to the affected outer islands. The WFP-managed UN Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) holds a contingency stock of high-energy biscuits which may be used in the response and is sending in equipment such as generators to help with the relief effort.
A young boy kicking a ball as his father searches through the ruins of their family home in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila after Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation.
A young boy kicking a ball as his father searches through the ruins of their family home in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila. (PHOTO AFP/POOL/Dave Hunt)

WFP is also lending its logistics expertise to help the government ensure that the influx of relief items from the wider humanitarian community gets to those in need as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

As part of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, WFP is working to establish satellite communications with remote islands. The cluster is a global network of organisations that work together to establish phone and internet services as soon as possible after a humanitarian crisis hits in order to help responders carry out their relief work. 


A man looks through the ruins of his home in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila after Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. (AFP PHOTO/POOL/Dave Hunt)

Deployed as the ETC coordinator, WFP’s Oscar Caleman arrived in Vanuatu early on Monday morning. Read his blog about being sent in on short notice to help: “Having come home only three days earlier I was hoping not to have to again explain to my 4-year-old why dad has to leave again,” he writes. “Colleagues across Rome, Geneva, Bangkok, Myanmar and Dubai (have been) giving updates, sharing information, offering to help, mapping out the situation…(I’m) happily seeing a government body taking the lead and telling us how we can be of best use.”

As communications are re-established with remote islands and the full extent of humanitarian needs become clear, WFP stands ready to support the government and people of Vanuatu.

Less than 48 hours after Cyclone Pam slammed into Vanuatu, WFP has mobilized experts in food assistance, humanitarian logistics and emergency telecommunications to support the relief operation. 

645613
03/17/2015 - 09:59

The ET Cluster team, along with partners NetHope, Ericsson Response, Emergency.lu, SOS Children’s villages and BT, work around the clock to make sure that they do everything in their power to provide the right connectivity tools to medical staff fighting on the front lines of Ebola. 

Witnessing a moment of hope

What motivates them in their work are moments like this Ebola Survivor Release Ceremony at the Port Loko GOAL Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU), which the team witnessed last week while carrying out a network maintenance mission.


During the ceremony, the team of nurses played live music on local instruments. Staff in the treatment unit could not help but join in, and within minutes, all staff were dancing to the beat of xylophones and drums. Even the doctors wearing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the restricted red zone took a moment to join the celebration. 

All of this was to honor a little girl who survived Ebola and is ready to go back to her village. 

Impact of Internet

At treatment units like this one, Internet is used to send laboratory results that monitor the condition of patients and, like in the case of this little girl, may confirm full recovery from the virus. 
[story|644781]Using the Internet, medical teams throughout the different facilities in Sierra Leone can also request supplies, communicate with management, complete the census of patients and to educate new staff who arrive at the facility.


Dr. Aaron Highfill. (Photo:WFP/Maryna Taran)

Dr. Aaron Highfill, one of the physicians at the Port Loko Government Hospital and Ebola Holding Centre where the ET Cluster is providing services, says “Having Internet makes a world of a difference as the doctors receive at least 30 emails per day with new information, and have a constant need to communicate across the teams in different locations.”

It’s a personal challenge 

[quote|"You are close enough to actually look across into the red zone. It’s not far away – it’s very close to Ebola.”]

Martin Falebrand from Ericsson Response points out: “It’s a personal challenge rather than a technical challenge to set up equipment in facilities like a treatment unit. It’s a very special feeling to go into an ETU. You smell all the chlorine and you see the doctors working in the red zone. You are close enough to actually look across into the red zone and see the people who are being treated inside the units. It’s not far away – it’s very close to Ebola.”

Despite the difficult conditions, the challenges and the pervasive health risk, it’s words like those from Dr. Highfill, and celebrations for recovering patients like the little girl in Port Loko, that encourage the ET Cluster team and partners to continue working to expand and improve network services across the Ebola affected countries.

In response to the Ebola crisis, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is providing Internet connectivity to over 2000 humanitarian workers at 80 locations across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As global lead of the ETC, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been mandated by UNMEER to respond as if the cluster was activated. The ETC is grateful for the ongoing support from partners including BT, emergency.lu, Ericsson Response, NetHope, and SOS Children’s Villages. 

Six months after the United Nations Security Council declared Ebola a threat to international peace and security, the Emergency Telecommunications (ET) Cluster in Sierra Leone is providing Internet connectivity for 65 medical institutions in the country. That number continues to grow every week.

645573
03/13/2015 - 14:29
Preventing Hunger

Are you still hopeful? 


Photo: WFP/Joelle Eid, Jordan

“We will always have a little bit of hope left.”

Itab is from Hama in central Syria. A mother of five, she currently lives in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is now home to over 80,000 Syrian refugees.

What keeps you going?


Photo: WFP/Joelle Eid, Jordan

"That fact that I might still get to see my three cats back home. Their names are Fakher and Hammour. I did not want to name the youngest.”

Najah is from Syria’s southernmost governorate of Daraa and now lives in Zaatari refugee camp. She is one of 625,000 Syrian refugees who now live in camps and communities across Jordan.

What are you nostalgic for?


Photo: WFP/Berna Cetin, Turkey

“The smell of the pine trees in the forest by my village. I will build a house there when I return.”

Fuad fled from his home in Lattakia, Syria three years ago and now lives with his wife and their five children in Osmaniye Refugee Camp in southeast Turkey, where more than 9,000 Syrian refugees currently live. 

What do you miss most?


Photo: WFP/Laure Chadraoui

“I miss my home and my kitchen in Syria where I used to cook delicious Syrian meals.”

Iman is 25 years old. She fled Aleppo a year ago with her husband and five children, carrying her new born baby and the few clothes she could grab under the shelling. They live in Lebanon now, which is currently hosting 1.1 million Syrian refugees.

What are you nostalgic for? 


Photo: WFP/Laure Chadraoui, Lebanon

“The picnics we used to have with family and friends. I often reminisce about those moments but I don’t say a word.”

Haifa is from Deir Ezzor, Syria. She travelled to Lebanon in late 2010 to visit relatives, only a few months before the conflict started. She had planned to go back to Syria, but the conflict started and what was supposed to be a short visit turned into four years of displacement.  

What do you miss most?


Photo: WFP/Laure Chadraoui, Lebanon

“My school friends. I started to forget their names.”

Nine year old Fadia is from Hama, Syria. She fled Hama with her family one year ago and has been out of school since she arrived in Lebanon. Out of school in Lebanon, Fadia’s education and future are at risk.

What is your hope for the future?


Photo: WFP/Dina El-Kassaby, Syria

“My wife and I named our firstborn Abdel Wahab after our favorite singer. I hope he will grow up in a peaceful Syria and sing about our country when he is older.”

Mohammed is displaced inside Syria. From Daraya in Rural Damascus, he now lives in central Damascus with his parents, wife, and siblings in a one bedroom apartment. Mohammed struggles to find work to make ends meet, but occasionally finds casual labour, which help him make money to be able to afford diapers for his son Abdel Wahab and to contribute to his family’s monthly rent.

What keeps you committed to your work?


Photo: WFP/Dina El-Kassaby, Syria

“Every person has a calling. Mine is to do good and to use that good in fighting evil.”

Mohamed-Ma’moon is a humanitarian worker with Hefz el Naama Charity, one of WFP’s partners in Damascus. 20 years ago, he decided to dedicate his life to charity work, never expecting that so many fellow Syrians would need it.

What do you plan to do when you go back home?


Photo: WFP/Dina El-Kassaby, Syria

“To become a pharmacist so I can give medicine to other kids who got sick.”

Alaa, 9 years old, is internally displaced from Eastern Ghouta. The shock of multiple displacements have taken a toll on Alaa’s immune system and she falls sick often. This is why she wants to become a pharmacist so she can help other kids in the same situation. 

What do you miss most from home?


Photo: WFP/Dina El-Kassaby, Syria

“I had new clothes in the closet that I hadn’t worn yet. I wish I could go back and get them.”

Fatoon is an internally displaced teenager, originally from Eastern Ghouta, Rural Damascus. Currently living in Damascus City with her sisters, mother and grandparents, Fatoon is one of 7.6 million Syrians who have been internally displaced by violence since the Syrian conflict started four years ago.

Do you have hope?


Photo: WFP/Mohammed Albahbahani, Iraq

“My only hope is to return home one day to my favourite spot in Homs: a river we call Al Asi (Arabic for disobedient) because it flows upwards in the opposite direction.”

Mohamed is originally from Homs, Syria and currently lives in Domiz refugee camp in Iraq. Almost a quarter million of Syrians who escaped the fighting in their country have found shelter in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Hope of returning home still burns strong for refugees like Mohamed, who left his hometown with his family with little more than the clothes on their backs.

What gives you the strength to carry on?

Photo: WFP/Joelle Eid, Jordan

“My faith in God. That is all I have left.”

Mohammed is from Ghouta in Rural Damascus, Syria. He fled to Jordan with his five children when the security situation back home became too dangerous to stay.

 

WFP provides monthly food assistance to 4 million people inside Syria and nearly 2 million refugees in the neighbouring countries.

WFP communications team met Syrians in displacement inside their country and in refuge in neighboring countries as well as humanitarian workers who have been witnesses to their agony. Here's what they had to say:

645601
03/13/2015 - 14:09

SAIDNAYA – For Abo Muhammed, old age would have ideally meant spending his days in the warm sun in front of his house in Qaboun in northern Damascus. Sadly, old age did not bring about the perks of retirement he hoped for. Well into his 70s, he was choking back his tears as he talked about how he ended up sitting in front of a silent Ferris wheel in a deserted theme park in Saidnaya further north.

“Our situation is really difficult,” he said waving his hands in defeat. Unable to talk much, the wheel’s vibrant yellow was a stark contrast to how he felt. The park is eerily quiet after joy and laughter left it four years ago.

Abo Muhammed fled clashes in Qaboun two years ago with his wife and youngest son Jihad, 25. He has another son and three daughters who are all married and live in Damascus with their families. 

The park’s owner let the family into the guard’s room in return for looking after the rides and plants. He even gave them most of the items they use as they came to mountainous Saidnaya with nothing but some clothes and the cash that was with them. They consider themselves a lucky family as they do not have young children and the monthly food ration they receive does not run out too soon.

COPING WITH THE COLD


WFP Field Monitor Tala Bismar with Um Muhammed inside the room where her family soke temporary refuge.

[quote|“We can’t afford heating fuel, so we remain in bed covered with blankets most of the time”]They are among 2,000 internally displaced families in Saidnaya that receive WFP food assistance, but the cold and lack of heating fuel keeps them huddled most of the day in their not-so-warm, tiled guard’s room. “We have an electric heater that we use when electricity is on, but unfortunately it is off most of the day,” says Um Muhammed. “We can’t afford heating fuel, so we remain in bed covered with blankets most of the time.” 

The three live off Abo Muhammed’s pension and what Jihad earns working as a minibus driver, which is not more than 18,000 SYP (US$80) per month. This little sum is supposed to cover expenses of food, medicine, utility bills and buy them cooking and heating fuel. 

They spend almost half of their small income on medicine as both parents suffer from rheumatism, diabetes and high blood pressure. “We need 1,000 litres of heating fuel each winter, which is over 200,000 SYP (US$1100) and we can’t afford any of it.”
“We collect dried branches from the park for cooking and heating,” said Um Muhammed as she waited for the electricity to turn back on to cook lunch for her family. 

LOOKING BACK


Abo Muhammed fled clashes in Qaboun two years ago with his wife and youngest son Jihad, 25. They now live on the grounds of a deserted theme park. (Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh)

As Abo Muhammed leans on this cane his sunken face tells the story of more than 11 million Syrians who have fled their homes to other Syrian cities or to neighbouring countries in the past four years. Their hopes reduced to being warm and fed. 

Some still think of the plants they left in their gardens, their cats or the smell of trees in their neighbourhoods; simple memories that keep them going towards an uncertain future. Not knowing whether their house still stands or not, they can only hope that one day they will have a home to return to. 

The Syrian crisis is entering its fifth year, shattering many lives and homes as the days go by. And it does so with no mercy especially this winter when many displaced families suffered the biting cold and the warmth of their lost homes is only a distant memory. Abo Muhammed’s family shares their story on the second winter they spend away from home.