Syria is entering its sixth year of conflict and going through a hunger winter, especially in besieged cities. To alleviate suffering in the governorate of Aleppo, one the most conflict-ridden zones of Syria, Cordaid-supported kitchen teams provide 6300 warm meals a day.
“Aleppians are either suffering or at risk of malnutrition”, says someone directly involved in the field kitchen project, whose name cannot be disclosed for security reasons. The hunger crisis in Syria is such that even the World Food Programme is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of the population.
Reasons for food insecurity
Five years of war have devastated the economy, the infrastructure and people’s income-generating opportunities. Local food production has collapsed. July last year wheat production was 40% lower than pre-conflict levels, according to FAO estimates. Prices of basic commodities have flared up. Bread prices have been noted to increase upwards of 900%. “To consume one basic meal a day a family of five needs 30.000 SYP (136 USD) a month. That amount exceeds the average salary of a government employee by 50%”, says the project staff member in Aleppo.
Bread prices have been noted to increase upwards of 900%.
Coping with hunger in the cities
In urban centers like Aleppo, competition over food and income resources is higher compared to rural areas. Our source in Aleppo: “Almost all the vegetables and all the beans and peas are produced outside the city. To bring them in, suppliers must pay exorbitant amounts at the checkpoints.”
A man who receives a daily meal at the field kitchen once said: “This is the first time my children eat meat in three years!”
To cope with the crisis families resort to extreme strategies: they reduce the number of meals, take high-risk and illegal jobs, even send children to beg or engage in child labor.
Kitchen team working full speed
To alleviate some of this suffering and meet the most urgent food needs, Cordaid finances the distribution of 6.300 hot meals a day to people in Aleppo whose situation is particularly vulnerable: people who are displaced, widow headed families, disabled persons and households with many children.
As central gatherings could easily become a target for armed groups, meals are delivered through a network of local partners.
Meals with meat, fresh vegetables and other nutritious ingredients are produced in an on-site field kitchen. Kitchen teams use diesel-fueled cookers, as cooking gas is more expensive. “The work starts at 8 am and is supposed to end at 4 pm”, our source explains. “However, staff find themselves working afterhours often, due to the large size of the operation. Working at the kitchen could be one of the most challenging and demanding jobs in Aleppo today, but its also one of the most motivating jobs.”
Staff turnover is a real problem, as staff members suffer from the same problems other citizens suffer from: some of them choose to leave the city or the country and become refugees themselves.
Distributing the meals
As huge central gatherings could all too easily become a target for armed groups, the field kitchen delivers the meals through a network of local partners. “We prepare the food at the kitchen; it is then transported to local partners in 15 different locations who then distribute it to those who most need it”, our contact in Aleppo explains. “It takes extensive training and monitoring to ensure that the meals go the most vulnerable, efficiently and effectively every day.”
The Cordaid supported kitchen is one of three comparable initiatives. Together they cover a fair portion of the city and they make sure that each kitchen serves different groups of individuals.
First time in three years
But the needs exceed the resources. “The city has been at war for more than 3 years; it has been under siege and it has suffered from fuel and power cuts for a very long time” says the field kitchen staff member. A man who receives a daily meal at the field kitchen once said: “This is the first time my children eat meat in three years!”
Unlike Madaya, the besieged city where food wasn’t allowed in, food is still available in Aleppo, but the access to it is severely restricted. “Should this kind of assistance stop,” our source in Aleppo explains, “people would be at even greater risk of becoming under-nourished.”
Coming week we will try to come up with further testimonies from Aleppo.