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Eastern Ghouta: relief workers serve 30,000 families

Features | 2017-07-17 10:32:50
Eastern Ghouta: relief workers serve 30,000 families
(Eqtsad)- The moment she saw her name on the district representative’s list of families set to receive a food basket, her eyes light up with joy as if she had won a kilogram of gold. Um Hassan, from al-Ghouta who is taking care of her three orphaned grandchildren, is one such woman who was very happy upon receiving a 42 kilogram food basket in Saqaba.

Um Hassan says she supports her son’s three children after he was martyred three months ago by a military air raid on Saqba, and without her son, the material burden is very high. The food basket will help her family immensely. 

In a move that may be the first of its kind in the field of relief work at the level of the Eastern Ghouta, a collective of relief organizations provided over 30,000 families with 42 kilogram food baskets containing most of the basic cooking and foodstuff materials.

Eqtsad explores the perspectives of beneficiaries, organization members, and others involved in this campaign to present the merits of this work in all its aspects and communicate the different views.

Abu Hamza al-Dimashqi, a resident of the town of Hamuriya, said that this work has had a significant positive effect in alleviating the suffering of people, but it has also had a very negative impact and exacerbated the humanitarian situation in al-Ghouta. The products pulled out of the market increased the prices of food products, because the amount withdrawn is estimated at hundreds of tons.

According to Abu Hamza, the prices of materials sold on the market increased significantly after the large quantities of material were withdrawn from the markets. He said this exacerbated the suffering of families who buy their needs from the market.

According to Haitham Ayoun, another resident of the Eastern al-Ghouta, the distribution was not done in a fair manner as some families who received a basket a month or two months ago were given another basket while families that have not received a basket for some time were not included in this campaign. 

He added that some families are hosting other families, and the total number of household residents may exceed ten people but many of these families did not receive baskets while smaller families did. “We hope that no sedition and sensitivity will be created among the members of the same neighborhood as a result of this distribution,” he said, “If the food basket is a cause for our problems and our suffering, it is not welcome.”

Abu Alaa, another resident, said that this campaign relieved family’s burdens as it reduced families’ economic burdens. The price of the materials distributed to each family exceeds 50,000 Syrian Pounds (SP). Sparing families this sum is very important especially as the distribution came in tandem with Eid al-Fitr which happened in light of difficult economic conditions.

A number of residents of Saqaba in the Eastern al-Ghouta said that for the first time more than 3,000 families in Saqaba alone (which has a population of 8000 families) were included in a campaign with such large food baskets. According to a survey poll conducted by Eqtsad in Saqaba, the basket will last an average family of 6 people a period exceeding one month, compared to previous distributions campaigns, where the baskets weighed 10 kilograms which lasted a family of 6 people a little over a week. 

In a bid to present all sides of the campaign, Eqtsad spoke with officials overseeing the campaign to try to answer the questions and issues civilians raised and to reach solutions acceptable to all.

We met with Hussein Khayti, the executive director of the General Authority for Relief Coordination, who explained to Eqtsad that in the past five years there have been relief campaigns but only at the level of the towns, and only one or two towns were covered. In contrast, this campaign is the first at the level of the Eastern al-Ghouta. He added, “I believe that it is one of the first things that must be worked on to direct the support aimed at al-Ghouta as well as the fact that relief work now revolves around institutional work that we have not witnessed in previous periods.”

“The most important criteria we adopted while distributing the baskets is targeting families affected as a result of the heavy shelling on al-Ghouta. The assistance came in the form of an urgent emergency basket for these families in addition to distributing baskets to the poorest families, families with disabled and injured members,” Khayti explained. “There are objections from some families that were not included in the distribution because we chose families that meet the previous criteria because they are more in need than others. The humanitarian work in the Eastern al-Ghouta, due to the lack of resources, must target those most in need first and foremost. If we could cover all the civilians, we would not hesitate and it would be a great pleasure to do so.”

Speaking to Eqtsad, Firas al-Marhoum, the director of the IHR office in the Eastern al-Ghouta, revealed the five organizations supporting the project’s coordination mechanisms. They formed a special emergency committee headed by the engineer Akram Tohma, Deputy Prime Minister of the Syrian Interim Government. The committee included representatives of the central sector relief work administration, representatives of the General Organization for Relief Coordination- Douma sector, and representatives of the five organizations involved. The committee coordinated the distribution to include all the towns, sectors and cities in the Eastern al-Ghouta without any exceptions.

In response to the claim that this campaign contributed to increasing food products’ market prices, al-Marhoum said that all foodstuffs were provided by the organizations participating in the committee before al-Wafidin Camp crossing point was closed and via the tunnels that are considered lifeline of al-Ghouta. All al-Ghouta’s entry points were closed and the siege imposed in March 2017. 

Al-Marhoum explained, “The quantities purchased over the two months period cannot affect the markets in al-Ghouta negatively, especially that the procurement policy of all organizations shies away from negative interference in the markets.”

According to al-Marhoum, the distribution process was extended over 20 days and continues until now. The Organizing Committee held 12 coordination meetings to agree on the distribution schedule within all towns. The Committee also agreed on the criteria and proportions for selecting and targeting residents and displaced persons among most of the towns. Local committees in the neighborhoods in each town contributed to the campaign. The Committee took into account all the other organizations active in al-Ghouta and distributing food supplies to residents. 

Despite all this coordination, al-Marhoum noted that their efforts have not covered the real need in al-Ghouta, but only partially covered residents’ needs. He explained that over 80,000 families are currently living in the Eastern Ghouta, and the poverty rate is more than 90%. He concluded saying, “We hope that we will be able to increase the work of the donors to focus on the Eastern al-Ghouta which suffered greatly and needs more.”

As the beneficiary selection phase is one of the most sensitive and important stages, Abu Abdul Rahman representative of the Life for Syria organization, explained how they organized the process. He explained that the economic situation of the families targeted in the distribution was diligently studied to ensure that the baskets reach those most in need. He said that they developed a special system worked out with Emergencies Committee during the preparatory period to ensure that the baskets benefit as many people as possible.

“This is the first time that we work collectively within a collective of five organizations working together in al-Ghouta. This improves the work’s quality, improves the implementation performance and reduces mistakes,” Abdul Raham added. “In the coming days, we look forward to repeating such an experiment given the benefits of it impact directly on those besieged inside the Eastern al-Ghouta We also wish to replicate this initiative in all liberated areas.”

The five organizations referred to in this report are Nabaa al-Hayat (Fountain of Life), Fazaa Organization, IHR, Shubak Amal Institution, Life for Syria and the Ihsan Institution that joined recently. The food baskets distributed included essential foodstuffs such as flour, rice, bulgur wheat, lentils, beans, chickpeas, oil and some tinned foods. A basket will spare families over 100 US Dollars due to the fluctuations and increases in the market prices in the Eastern al-Ghouta.
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