IDLIB — The World Food Program (WFP) has reduced the contents of food baskets provided to the needy in all Syrian areas, most notably in the northwest.
The Syrian Response Coordination Group (RCG), an Idlib-based humanitarian NGO assisting the displaced, said in a statement on Sept. 7 that the new reduction makes it less adequate for daily nutrition.
The RCG further warned all humanitarian agencies not to reduce aid further, which may cause uncontrollable famine. It called on all international bodies to increase support to civilians in the area, noting that the number of people in need exceeds 3.4 million.
The baskets have been reduced several times in the past year-plus. Mohamad Karnebo, who works for one of the organizations that distribute aid through the WFP, told Al-Monitor that the items are distributed to families on a monthly basis and contain bulgur, rice, whole lentils, chickpeas, vegetable oil, salt, sugar and flour. Each family gets the same size basket, but it is not enough for a large family. The recent cuts in the food basket, he added, have reduced vegetable oil from six liters to four liters. Sugar was reduced from six kg to five kg, and bulgur from 15 kg to 7.5 kg, according to him.
Mohammed al-Hallaj, the RCG director who resides in Idlib, told Al-Monitor that the reason for the recent reduction is the coronavirus outbreak, as well lack of funding and the need to secure food for other regions in need, such as Yemen and Afghanistan.
He added, “This reduction has a negative impact since the basket is no longer sufficient for the families' needs. We are afraid of another reduction, which will exacerbate people’s suffering … . There are about 1.5 million displaced people living in tents below normal living standards. With the onset of winter, suffering increases. Most camp residents are unemployed and have no purchasing power.”
“This reduction is due to the huge need and the desire of the World Food Organization to reach a greater number of people [around the world], as a result of the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic on job opportunities and local markets," Karnebo said. "Often, reducing the contents of the food basket [has a negative impact], and families are forced to reduce the number of meals and won’t be able to achieve their own food security; and this in turn will have effects on health.”
He added, “The criteria differ according to the area of distribution, whether it is within the cities or within the camps, but priority is always given …to the elderly, widows, pregnant and breastfeeding women, in addition to the lack of a fixed income. Increasing and reducing aid are tied to the donors and their ability to provide money for aid. Now, most donors will turn to job creation and income-generating activities.”
Living conditions in the camps are very difficult, Karnebo said, and the families suffer at different times of year from rain and flooding, high winds, high temperatures, water shortage, and seasonal diseases such as colds and the flu, as well as scabies and skin diseases such as leishmaniasi). Despite all these difficulties, many families are seeking jobs to meet their other needs, such as health and education, by working in agricultural land and doing low-key trade, he added.
“Most camp residents depend mainly on aid, selling assets, spending their savings or borrowing, to secure their needs, in addition to working seasonal jobs if available." he said. "The living conditions in the camps are very difficult. We hope that all decision-makers will work to protect the camp residents and provide them with adequate assistance, in addition to better housing, such as residential communities instead of tents.”
Fatima Abed, a widow who lives in the Deir Hassan camp in Idlib countryside, told Al-Monitor, “I have five children, and I receive a relief basket every month, but it is not enough for our needs. In the past, the basket before the reduction was almost enough, but this is no longer the case. I had to request aid from several charities to meet our needs, and we fear that the organizations will continue to reduce the content of baskets. Before the reduction, our needs for oil, sugar, etc. were met; but after the reduction, we started to buy sugar and oil at high prices, and we do not have enough money.”
Adnan al-Assaad, who lives in one of the Atma camps in the northern countryside of Idlib, told Al-Monitor, “I work as a street vendor to provide for the needs of my family of eight. I used to rely on the relief basket to feed my family, in addition to my income, which I get from street selling. But today the situation is much tougher. I work all month and still cannot make ends meet, despite the relief basket. I sometimes have to borrow money to put bread on the table.”