Food and Work: Tackling Food Insecurity and Unemployment in SyriaPublished: Mar 21, 2017 Reading time: 6 minutes
As the Syrian conflict entered its seventh year this March, 13.5 million people in Syria remain in need of humanitarian assistance and over three quarters of the population is living in poverty.
One of the greatest needs in Syria today is food
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), a combination of record-low food production, reduced government subsidies and currency depreciation, has led to continuous and sharp increases in food prices since the beginning of the crisis. According to WFP, a one-week ration of basic food supplies is now eight times more expensive than before the crisis.
As a result, almost 80 percent of the households across the country are struggling to cope with the lack of food or money to buy it.
Food security needs in People in Need’s operational areas of Aleppo and Idleb are amongst the highest in the country. A contributing factor has been the continuous waves of displacement into these governorates, which affects not only the displaced families themselves but also the communities that share and stretch resources to host them.
Displacement is not the only factor though. In these areas, we see the impact that the protracted nature of the conflict coupled with years of damage to infrastructure, agricultural production and market systems has had at the local level. Generations of well-educated, skilled men and women have been left jobless and unable to afford enough food for their families.
To respond to some of these food security needs, People in Need (PIN) and EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) have been supporting families in Aleppo and Idleb through food vouchers and Cash-for-Work activities. Since April 2016, we have supported 14,424 families through these projects.
Since April 2016, 9,170 families, including 1,464 families displaced from Aleppo city in late December, have been supported through our food voucher programme. Families are selected on the basis of need and given voucher booklets worth approximately 70USD, which is sufficient to cover food costs for a family of six for an entire month. Depending on severity and duration of each family’s need, each family receives monthly food vouchers for a period of 3 or 6 months.
The vouchers can be used to purchase fresh and storable produce in a variety of pre-selected local stores and allow for the freedom of choice. Food vouchers, as opposed to in-kind food assistance, provides a much broader scope of benefits for the community as they help to invigorate local markets; provide a living for those engaged throughout the whole market chain; support local farmers and offer people the right to choose their food and manage their resources.
For many of the same reasons, EU Humanitarian Aid and PIN also support access to work opportunities for people from Aleppo and Idleb through a programme called ‘Cash-for-Work’. This programme is intended to directly support those who have lost their sources of livelihood due to the war and support them in covering the basic needs of their families, a priority of which is food. Today, in Syria, millions of people have been pushed into unemployment and poverty. With a lack of income, affected communities have adopted negative coping strategies to support their families, such as the sale of productive assets, sending children to work, and arranging the early marriage of daughters.
Cash-for-Work programmes invest in people’s capacities and skills and provide opportunities for male and female youth to work in their own towns and villages in jobs that will benefit the rest of the community. For example, the Cash-for-Work participants we support engage in various activities which include waste removal and management; clearing debris from the streets; maintaining roads; or supervising kindergartens.
Ahmad Khatib, People in Need’s Cash-for-Work Field Coordinator, describes the added value of Cash-for-Work projects: “It is an important project because it supports both male and female workers and makes good use of their skills, competencies and strengths. The best thing is that this project helped decrease the high unemployment rates.”
Since April 2016, 5,254 people have taken part in Cash-for-Work activities funded by EU Humanitarian Aid and implemented by People in Need in Aleppo and Idleb. Out of these participants, 4,374 were men and 880 women. Each year we strive to increase the number of women in this programme.
Typically in Syria, household breadwinners are male. However, six years of war have unexpectedly reset gender roles in Syria. With so many men killed or missing, women are finding themselves as the main supporters of their families and communities. This project seeks to empower women and provide services which benefit the entire family. Fatima Hamdan, a PIN Cash-for-Work participant, heads a kindergarten in Idleb. Displaced by the conflict and insecurity, she moved to Idleb from Homs.
“I left my village in Homs because of the heavy bombardment and airstrikes. I used to work as a summer club supervisor in a school, so when I settled here I started a small kindergarten in the village with a group of teachers with the aim of establishing new jobs for us and teaching our children. Parents had to pay a small amount of money for this. Last year, we started receiving support from People in Need for the kindergarten. There are now two female teachers teaching the children, a caretaker and a supervisor and the parents no longer have to pay. The kindergarten has two classrooms and a recreational space for the children. People in Need also provided the pupils with a bag containing all necessary stationery and some educational toys and also provided the kindergarten with whiteboards and toys for the students’ recreational activities.”
Fatima continues, “there are many advantages to this kindergarten. Firstly, the fact that we are able to teach the very small children and help them learn the basics of sciences, Arabic, English and Mathematics in a child-like environment, full of fun and recreational activities. In short, we prepare them for school and strengthen their skills and self-confidence. Secondly, the kindergarten employed four female persons and this in turn helps their families. On a personal level, I prefer having this job opportunity to receiving other forms of aid because not only can I use my skills and knowledge but by receiving money I am free to buy whatever I need.”
With the protraction of the country’s crisis, the restoration of livelihoods and access to job opportunities have become critical to sustain and restore dignified living conditions and reduce people’s reliance on humanitarian aid.