The superheroes of the Syrian crisis. The questionable omnipresence of the World Food Programme (February 2014)


(Picture taken from:

By Estella Carpi and Andrea Glioti 

To criticize the humanitarian industry has lately become out of fashion from the perspective of NGOs’ practitioners. They are the only ones entitled to speak in the name of professional legitimacy and human morality. Their intentions are aprioristically good, and we just have to shut up if all what we actually do is to watch and judge them. The implicit ethical message seems therefore to be this: “don’t think, just do”.

The categorical imperative of being present anywhere a crisis occurs can be called “humanitarian omnipresence”. The construed necessity to be anywhere is often corroborated by the eschatological tone used by NGOs in their announcements where they sponsorize their heroic operations.

Moreover, to randomly enhance quantities is one of the most favourite hobbies of the humanitarian industry.

A newsletter we recently received from the World Food Programme evidently shows the extremely harmful contradictions of these so-called “coping mechanisms” aprioristically represented as high moral standard efforts that the international community makes in order to “help the Syrians”. Whoever and wherever they are.

Thus, no one should be cut off from humanitarian assistance, not even in Qamishli.

This city is still in the regime’s hands,  its bombs have never hit this area, and no one is properly dying of starvation. At the moment the Qamishli region is not even cut out from the rest of the country, as its military airport is still functioning.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the border crossings shared between al-Hasakeh province and Turkey are all closed – and the one shared with Iraqi Kurdistan (Fish Khabur/Semalka passage) is rarely used for food supplies. Poverty and scarce availability of some goods is quite a historical problem in this Syrian North-East region, but not starvation.

What conflict regions is WFP talking about? Just Qamishli is mentioned in the announcement of new massive supplies, although it is not a conflict zone. Clashes, indeed, are ongoing in Tel Hamis (South-East of Qamishli) and West of Ras al-‘Ayn (next to Raqqa). Why WFP hasn’t provided supplies in the southern regions of al-Hasakeh, and has delivered food instead just in the Northern (Kurdish) regions?

WFP has landed in Qamishli airport. Have they delivered aid in the hands of the regime then? This is the airport from which the regime keeps shelling Tel Hamis (one of the few opposition – and extremist rebels’ – strongholds in the North of al-Hasakeh province).

How do they make such self-applauded aid reach Tel Hamis, for example? Or is it only the regime and its allies – like the Kurdish PYD – that are meant to distribute aid? Qamishli airport, in fact, is not controlled by the PYD: what would the Kurds benefit from this aid distribution? In other words, how could this aid reach historically neglected areas of Syria, at least?

Wheat flour, burghul… Are these supplies needed in al-Hasakeh region? Has it not always been considered as the Syrian wheat belt?

Andrea adds: “I used to live in a family where burghul was sifted at home and I’ve never been told there was scarcity of that. Laban (yoghurt) and bread were instead running out in the local markets of al-Hasakeh province. The bread scarcity, in particular, is being used by the Kurdish PYD as a political leverage, as the Kurdish party, now allied with the Asad regime, is controlling the wheat silos, unlike other regions where wheat has been sold or smuggled in Syria or abroad”. In light of all this, who is ensuring that WFP wheat is not being rationed by the same political actors, carefully selecting their channels and the areas that should be assisted?

The chronic lack of job opportunities and the ongoing conflict have a much heavier impact than food shortage in Qamishli.

So, what are the real reasons behind humanitarian omnipresence? Is chronic poverty in North-East Syria being addressed just now in time of emergency? In that case Lebanese Akkaris can shake the hands of their Kurdish fellows inhabiting North-East Syria: the emergency state and the security situation threatened by regional displacement have reminded the whole world that the pre-crisis human conditions in these regions have always been horrifying.

What seems to matter is boasting the organization’s achievement of large numbers, as though a solution to the crisis were reachable by providing increasing quantity of aid. “What a real pity to meet Syrian refugees, treated just as human beings that need to biologically survive – whatever was their political activity back in Syria – that sell their WFP food vouchers across Lebanon, with the main purpose of getting money and financially supporting their favorite armed team” Estella says.

While employing neutral verbal expressions like “a political conflict with no end in sight”, the World Food Programme is facing with the “biggest humanitarian challenge”, reaching 80 countries and providing food assistance to 90 million people each year. This is apparently what matters the most. At the end of the day, in fact, “Syrians must have their most basic needs met”, WFP specifies. And the more basic these needs are, the less politically dangerous Syrians turn to be.


Here below you can read the full World Food Programme Newsletter that we have been discussing.

WFP News Release

4 February 2014


QAMISHLI, Syria –The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) started airlifting on Tuesday enough food to feed close to 30,000 displaced people for a month from Iraq to Qamishli in northeast Syria amid growing problems in reaching people, especially in conflict and besieged areas.

It is the second such WFP airlift from Erbil, Iraq, to people who would otherwise be cut off from humanitarian assistance.

The first WFP-chartered flight landed at Qamishli airport with 40 metric tons of mixed food including rice, pasta, bulgur, wheat flour, canned food, pulses, salt, vegetable oil and sugar. A total of 10 flights will deliver over 400 metric tons of WFP food and other items – mainly clothes, detergent and soap – for UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration.

Road access into northeastern Syria’s Al Hassakeh Governorate remains perilous for aid agencies and no significant deliveries of relief items have reached the region overland since May. WFP airlifted food from Erbil to Qamishli in December for more than 62,000 people deprived of food assistance for over five months.

In January, WFP dispatched enough food for 3.6 million people in Syria, short of its target of 4.25 million people as the governorates of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, Rural Aleppo and Al-Hassakeh were inaccessible. The closure of the Daraa-Damascus highway has also affected the dispatch of food to parts of Daraa, Quneitra, Damascus and Rural Damascus.

“It is tragic to see the most vulnerable Syrians going hungry and paying the heavy price for a political conflict with no end in sight,” said Ertharin Cousin, WFP’s Executive Director. “We call upon all parties to provide us with continuous and unimpeded access across the country. WFP should be able to reach all those who need food assistance all the time.”

Humanitarian agencies have not been able to reach Al Hassakeh Governorate by road consistently for over five months and security has deteriorated in the last few weeks, displacing large numbers of people. Recently, around 7,500 people fled clashes that erupted in rural parts of Al-Hassakeh to Qamishli city while others fled towards the Iraqi border.

“The road to political stability and confidence building in Syria starts with an important step: ensuring no one dies because of a lack of food or medicine or from the cold when humanitarian workers are nearby but are not allowed in” said Cousin. “Syrians must have their most basic needs met.”

Syria is WFP’s most complex emergency globally with challenges ranging from bureaucratic delays, insecurity on roads and the closure of major highways as well as sieges imposed on civilians trapped in over 40 locations across Syria as a result of the fighting.

As hunger in Syria grows, WFP is appealing for over US$2 billion to assist more than 7 million Syrians in urgent need of food assistance in 2014. These include 4.25 million people inside Syria and over 2.9 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

For still photos of the latest airlift, please contact:

For broadcast quality video please contact:

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. On average, WFP reaches more than 90 million people with food assistance in 80 countries each year.

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