Send food aid to starving Syrians
The region needs more than warplanes.
By William Lambers
The United States is deploying warplanes to Turkey to step up the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. But we cannot forget the other enemy Syrians are facing — hunger. This may be the most powerful foe of all.
The UN World Food Programme, or WFP, feeds around 4 million people inside Syria each month, but many civilians are still starving. They are trapped by the ongoing civil war, which has destroyed food production and farming.
Combatants in Syria need to put down their weapons, agree to a cease-fire, and let humanitarian aid through. The international community has to pressure the Syrian regime and rebel groups to let food reach the hungry, as well as make sure the United Nations has adequate resources to keep this vital food aid afloat.
Desperate Syrians can only sift through the garbage for scraps and wait for help to arrive. In the Yarmouk refugee camp, residents have not received food aid since March. The children of Yarmouk are so malnourished that they need a super-enriched peanut paste called Plumpy’Doz. Without this, they risk lasting physical and mental damage, or death. The WFP can provide it for them, but only if there is access.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has trucks standing by to bring in food to the Yarmouk area, but they need safe passage. “It can be very dangerous,” WFP Syria officer Dina El-Kassaby says. “Our convoys have been shot at, and our trucks have to navigate a conflict zone and checkpoints to get food to the people that need it.” Otherwise they can only sit idle while people starve.
Yet there is another crisis within this crisis of Syria. The WFP is now facing a funding shortage for its hunger relief program. “Critical funding shortages have forced the agency to reduce the level of assistance it provides to vulnerable Syrians by up to 50 percent,” says El-Kassaby. “This is having extremely negative impacts on families who are resorting to extreme measures to cope.” The program also supports another some 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
The United States must send more than warplanes to the region. Congress must increase funding for America’s Food for Peace program, the single largest donor to the UN’s hunger-relief efforts. We need to support food aid and agricultural recovery for Syria. We need to build Hunger Free Zones to accompany the Islamic State-free zones that the United States and Turkey have proposed.
Fighting cannot continue forever in Syria. There has to be a peaceful settlement and a new government established. But no peace will be built on empty stomachs.
William Lambers partnered with the UN World Food Programme to write the book “Ending World Hunger.”