In Syria, A Humanitarian Crisis Deepens

More than 1.5 million people have fled the civil war in Syria. For those who remain, there's little semblance of normal life. David Greene speaks with the World Food Program's Muhannad Hadi about the worsening humanitarian crisis.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

More than one and a half million people have fled the civil war in Syria. For those who remain, there's little semblance of normal life.

MONTAGNE: The United Nations says the conflict in Syria amounts to the worst humanitarian crisis since the genocide in Rwanda back in 1994. Secretary of State John Kerry visited with Syrian refugees in Jordan last week. Today, he's holding talks about what more can be done in the form of humanitarian aid.

GREENE: And let's hear from someone in that field. When we spoke with Muhannad Hadi - the World Food Program's emergency coordinator for Syria - back in April, he described a population hungry for basic necessities. Today, he says the need has only grown.

MUHANNAD HADI: Things in Syria change every day. Unfortunately, they change for the worse. Nothing improves. All sectors have been affected. I wish I can come with good news. Unfortunately, there are no good news from Syria. The situation is going from bad to worse every day.

GREENE: In what ways can we understand how it's getting worse for what you do, getting food to people?

HADI: Well, less electricity, less infrastructure, water is not available everywhere, bread is not available. Prices are becoming much, much more expensive. Some of the food prices have increased by 300 percent. There's no income for the people. There's no income for the people. Education has been affected. We've done a food security assessment survey: Four million people are now food-dependent. By the end of the year, the World Food Program will be feeding approximately close to seven million people in Syria and neighboring countries.

GREENE: We spoke to a British journalist recently who spent some time in Aleppo, in northwest Syria. One of the striking things he told us was that he felt like they had adjusted to a new normal. The expectation was now that this war was going to go on unpredictably, maybe forever, and so they're literally doing things that are routine: commuting to work, expecting to be shot at by snipers. It's just incredible. Are people accepting that now in this country?

HADI: I don't know if people are accepting that. But what I know is the crisis has taken too long. And the problem is the crisis are becoming regional. They no longer just concerned Syria. Think of Jordan, Jordan with the refugee camp, Zaatari, a refugee camp which now has more than 100,000 people. For a country like Jordan, this camp is becoming the fifth-largest town in Jordan. It is very difficult.

GREENE: Do you see people who are refugees in getting to some of these refugee camps as having better access to food? Or do you find it better for people to stay in Syria and hope that food comes to them?

HADI: They're both worse than each other. Some of the displaced people are already displaced on - for five or six times. I mean, the worst thing, I think, is to be a refugee. No matter what you gave a refugee, that's not what he wants. The Syrian refugees need to return to Syria. They're living in tents. You can help them improve their living condition in the camp, but it's not home.

GREENE: I wanted to focus a bit on what is a staple in Syria, and that is bread. We have heard that some of the Islamist groups operating in Syria have been getting bread to communities. It's almost a battle for hearts and minds, that they might be gaining some political support from delivering that food. Are you seeing that, and is there somehow a competition for who can get food to some of these troubled places?

HADI: This is one of the messages we keep telling our donors, is we really have to have enough resources to make sure that nobody else come and fill the humanitarian gap. It's very important for WFP to make sure that humanitarian assistance is given based on neutrality. Unfortunately, we have saw some of the organizations there in some parts of the country that are trying to distribute food not on neutrality, and this is something, of course, we don't accept. In WFP, we make sure that the only criteria for receiving assistance is basically need.

GREENE: You're spending a lot of time in Washington, D.C. - shuttling back and forth, but you're here a lot. Is the Obama administration doing enough, in your mind, to deal with this crisis?

HADI: We're very grateful for the U.S. government, but we have to remember that this crisis is a regional crisis. It affects everybody. Let me give you some of the figures, just for people to understand how much we're talking about. The World Food Program needs 27 million U.S. dollars every week. If we don't get this money, people will go hungry. That's not the responsibility of the U.S. government and American people alone. This is also the responsibility of the region, the responsibility of the world. We need more support. We need more funding. We want even the U.S. administration to speak to other donors, to encourage others, also, to support this operation.

GREENE: Muhannad Hadi, thank you so much for coming in again, and safe travels to you.

HADI: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

GREENE: The voice of Muhannad Hadi. He's the World Food Program's emergency coordinator for Syria.

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