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'Hunger In Syria Shames Us All': WFP Emergency Coordinator

There are people forced to gather leaves, roots and grass in a bid to quell their children’s hunger, says WFP’s Regional Emergency Coordinator Muhannad Hadi as he reflects on the humanitarian impact of the Syrian crisis. This personal view of the crisis, built up while overseeing WFP’s emergency operations, comes as the conflict moves into its fourth year.

Consider for a moment the profound impact that Syria’s unrelenting war – entering a fourth year with no end in sight – has had on the lives of the millions of individuals who have lost everything.

How many Syrian children are growing up who now know nothing but war? How many were born amid the sound of gunfire and explosions? Why do so many go to bed with empty stomachs? I have three sons myself and these questions trouble me.

Just last night, hundreds of Syrian families were torn apart as mothers and children crossed borders under the shield of the darkness to find safety abroad. This morning, exhausted refugees huddle at borders awaiting the unknown. Right now, others are trying to adjust to refugee camps in foreign countries; a sense of homelessness, confusion and loss overcomes them. This, like a recurring nightmare, has repeated itself every day for three years for millions of Syrians – and it continues.

Pangs of hunger

Meanwhile inside Syria, others scramble to escape rockets and mortars destroying their homes; they risk their lives crossing frontlines to escape fighting around them. Some women reach hospitals to give birth, some don’t. Others can only embrace their children, covering their ears to try to muffle the horrifying sounds of war.

As the war drags on and on, the biggest challenge for the United Nations World Food Programme is reaching these people in Syria. Even with over 3,000 trucks daily on the roads across the country, navigating hundreds of checkpoints and crossing conflict lines, people – including women and children – still feel the pangs of hunger every day. Some, in places we can’t reach, are malnourished.

There are the people forced to gather leaves, roots and grass in a bid to quell their children’s hunger. They cannot fathom why this became their reality, a daily shame for parents. What excuse can we give to Syrian mothers who have no food to give their children? Talk of “access constraints,” “funding gaps” and “insecurity” is not acceptable to a hungry child or desperate mother in Syria.

Syria in ruins

Just three years ago, Syria was a lively hub in the Middle East. Known for its history, culture and cuisine, people flocked from all across the world to visit its ancient sites and towns. I remember how it was as I was living and working there for WFP. What was vibrant is now dim, what was bustling is now deserted, what was Syria has descended into war and ruins.

No child should go hungry. No child should wake up to the sound of gunfire and live in constant fear. No parent should feel ashamed at what they have been reduced to in the eyes of their children.

Every one of us can do something – however big or small – to end the agony of the Syrian people. The actions we can take are countless, whether as individuals, groups or governments. But whatever you do, remember the eyes and tears of skinny children and their parents trapped in besieged areas.

(This article was first published by the Toronto Star)

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