Humanitarian crises have grown not just in frequency but also in complexity: WFP

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“In the past couple decades, humanitarian crises have grown not just in frequency but also in complexity and protraction. Preparedness remains the key factor to quickly react and assist the affected populations,” says Walid Ibrahim, Network Coordinator of WFP-managed United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD).

Ibrahim has been serving as Network Coordinator of the WFP since July 2022, and he has had more than 22 years of extensive experience in the humanitarian sector having served in the past in high-level managerial roles including: Head of Supply Chain for UNHRD, Head of Supply Chain in Syria, and WFP Deputy Country Director in Myanmar (2019 - 2022). He first joined the organization in 2003 as a Logistics Officer in Iraq and, over the years, served at WFP Headquarters in Rome, in Ethiopia, and for short-term emergency deployments in Pakistan and Sudan.

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An Egyptian/Italian national born in Milan, Italy, Walid grew up between Italy, Egypt, and Eritrea.

Walid Ibrahim, Network Coordinator of WFP-managed United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD. (Supplied)
Walid Ibrahim, Network Coordinator of WFP-managed United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD. (Supplied)

In an interview with Al Arabiya English, Ibrahim said, “Since the 2004 Tsunami and 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the UN and the humanitarian community have created tools and mechanisms to improve coordination and outreach of response efforts. Within these, there is the UN Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) which is a network of emergency preparedness and response hubs created by the World Food Programme in the wake of those catastrophes by replicating in strategic regions of the world a hub which was established in Italy in 2000.”

UNHRD is a strategic platform which WFP uses to deploy support equipment for its own operations and makes available to humanitarian partner organizations to facilitate their response. With hubs in Ghana, Italy, Malaysia, Panama, and the UAE, UNHRD enables WFP, other UN agencies, governments ,and NGOs to respond to multiple large-scale crises swiftly and efficiently at the same time.

The UNHRD and other shared services make WFP one of the biggest service providers for their humanitarian community contributing. This expands WFP mandate not just to address Sustainable Development Goal 2 on Zero Hunger but also contribute to SDG 17 on Partnerships for the Goals.

Since its establishment in 2000, UNHRD has grown into a platform for emergency preparedness and response beyond the core services of prepositioning of relief items and support equipment. In addition to promote coordination among its partners to establish the key relief items and equipment to have in stock and at what levels, UNHRD has recognized that partnerships and joint efforts are key since preparedness and thus facilitates initiatives for product development and innovative solutions to be better equipped for the response.

Regarding the international response to the recent deadly earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria resulting in 46,000 deaths, the WFP official has this to say: “The earthquake which struck Türkiye and Syria is just the latest example of a complex humanitarian crisis. It added to a longstanding crisis caused by 12 years of conflict and cross-border migration, with Gaziantep, the epicentre of the quake, hosting nearly half a million Syrian refugees, the country’s second-highest number after Istanbul.”

“I would say the response was fast considering these existing circumstances. The WFP had ongoing operations in both countries; we also have partners, staff, and a robust supply chain in place, which meant responding to needs could begin within the first hours of the disaster.”

In the first month since the earthquake, UNHRD managed 23 consignments delivering 806 metric tons of emergency food, relief items and support equipment on behalf of WFP and other 12 partner organizations. “Through other partners on the ground, the aid has been or will be distributed to populations in North West Syria and other affected regions.”

Since stepping up our emergency response to support victims of the devastating earthquake in Syria and Türkiye, WFP provided emergency food assistance reaching more than 2.7 million quake-affected people across both countries through hot meals, emergency ready-to-eat food packages and family food rations to deliver immediate relief in the affected areas.

“The WFP teams in the two countries are also continuously assessing needs and supporting logistics efforts,” the WFP official said.

Regarding coordination of rescue services and aid from various countries and organizations, Ibrahim said, “Over the years, WFP has worked, including through the UNHRD, with government and local authorities to strengthen their emergency preparedness and response capacity to crises. This resulted in an increasing number of national civil protection authorities leading the response along with WFP. Other UN organizations and NGOs continue to provide support and complement the response, if need be.”

Support to country-led response may come through several capacities, such as the Humanitarian Coordinators or Resident Coordinators who are responsible for leading and coordinating both UN and non-UN efforts aiming at ensuring that they are timely, effective and efficient and contribute to long-term recovery. Based on the Humanitarian Country Team’s analysis of needs, gaps, and coordination capacity, and in consultation with national partners, clusters may be activated. They are designed to provide coordination in the main areas of an emergency response, for example WFP leads the Logistics and Emergency Telecommunications cluster and co-lead with FAO the Food Security Cluster.

On the onset of this earthquake, a Logistics Response Team was deployed as part of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to enable logistics coordination and information-sharing support to the humanitarian community active in Türkiye and North-West Syria.

The Logistics Cluster is activated for the whole of Syria since 2013 and remains operational for national and cross-border logistics support from Türkiye into Syria. The Logistics Sector was set up in Turkey after the publication of the Türkiye Flash Appeal on February 16, 2023.

Speaking about insurgency-hit regions, Ibrahim admitted that the situation in Syria is “certainly challenging.” “WFP has extensive experience in working in somehow challenging contexts and set-ups,” he said.

The WFP official said: “As an organization, we are already on ground providing food supplies and rations for distribution and we work with several entities to ensure supplies reach the intended areas. WFP is coordinating its food assistance response with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), local relief committees and other humanitarian partners in all locations (make a reference to the humanitarian principles). The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also contributing ready-to-eat rations in Aleppo in coordination with WFP.”

“Additionally, humanitarian access has expanded through the opening of two additional border crossing points from Türkiye to northwest Syria. WFP is using all three Turkish-Syrian border crossings, Bab al-Hawa, Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee, to ensure a constant reach of aid to all areas of northwest Syria.”

Ibrahim said that the WFP relies on the international donor community to support with funding of its operations.

The World Health Organization estimates that some 26 million people across both Turkey and Syria need humanitarian aid. “The WFP is appealing for $230 million to provide assistance through hot meals, ready-to-eat meals, vouchers and cash to both countries,” he said.

“In addition, WFP requires $300 million to maintain its food assistance program across all of Syria for 5.5 million people every month. Without sufficient resources, WFP will be forced to dramatically reduce up to 70 percent of the people it assists in Syria from July onwards, impacting some of the most food-insecure and impoverished people in the world.”

Since the focus in Syria has shifted to medical aid and rehabilitation of victims, how is it possible to ensure that the assistance reaches everyone who is affected? “Nearly half of the displaced population in Syria live in the northwest region in tents, makeshift shelters, or destroyed and abandoned buildings, with most services not functioning including hospitals. Freezing temperatures add to their plight and make rapid humanitarian action essential,” the WFP official said.

“One of the main issues for us in terms of delivering aid was the damage done to the road and transport systems. Clearing the debris and facilitating access is a top priority for us to ensure aid is delivered to those in need fast. Working with the authorities on ground to ensure this is done is critical. Also ensuring that the three border crossings continue to be operational is very important.”

“Our work in Syria is an ongoing operation,” he said. “While medical and rehab assistance is vital, the continued provision of shelter, food, water, and other essentials is also continuing. We are addressing this complex emergency situation through a short- and long-term approach.”

Ibrahim said that the Dubai UNHRD hub is one of five hubs around the world, and “because of its strategic location, we’re able to quickly dispatch emergency supplies and organize their transport for the humanitarian community.”

He said the UAE’s International Humanitarian City (IHC) has generously hosted the UNHRD since 2008 providing warehousing and transportation facilities that allows several United Nations organizations and other humanitarian agencies to operate with ease – with the WFP managing the coordination efforts with all the partner organizations.

The Dubai hub plays a leading role in emergency preparedness and response worldwide. Since the earthquake struck, the Dubai hub has dispatched 19 consignments delivering 738 metric tons of high energy biscuits (for immediate nutrition needs) and water as well as tents & tarp, winterization kits & stoves, shelter kits, prefabs, generators, medical items etc.

“In addition to providing us with the facilities for our operations, the IHC have often supported by offering free-of-charge transport services. So far, for the earthquake response, 52 metric tonnes of cargo on behalf of four UNHRD partners was delivered through this in-kind support.”

“The UAE is playing a pivotal role in facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid where it is needed, especially in times of heightened crises. We are very thankful for their continued generous, multifaceted support through funding as well as on-ground warehousing and logistical operations,” Ibrahim said.

Read more: WFP reaches 2 mln earthquake-affected people in Syria and Turkey

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