Fatai Adegboye is one of our many part-time PhD fellows who also works for another UN body — in this case the World Food Programme (WFP) in Damascus, Syria. He came to Maastricht for our unique PhD Dual Career Training Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC²). The questions are posed by course leader Dr. Mindel van de Laar.
Can you describe your daily work in Damascus?
FA: I am a Business Support Manager at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Syria Country Office. I am based in Damascus, and my primary responsibility is to ensure that financial and administrative services are provided to the various departments and field offices in Syria, as well as in neighbouring countries, supporting the massive humanitarian efforts to provide life-saving assistance to about 4.5 million Syrians affected by the crisis. This includes managing finances, addressing administrative bottlenecks, updating business processes in the areas of finance, administration, transport, IT, improving operational efficiency, providing advice and support to management, and supervising 49 staff members country-wide who form the backbone of the operation.
There are many people in need in Syria, not only in camps but also the internally displaced. How does the WFP serve all the Syrians in need of food support, and how safe is your work environment?
FA: The conflict has led to massive destruction and devastation, where 13.5 million people inside Syria are estimated to be in need of various forms of humanitarian assistance. During 2015, WFP conducted a food security assessment, which indicated that one third of the Syrian population, approximately 6.3 million people, are acutely food insecure and require immediate life-saving food assistance. In addition, 2.4 million Syrians are at high risk of slipping into food insecurity. WFP aims to assist 4 million Syrians with in-kind food transfers every month to support the most vulnerable across the country in close coordination with other food actors. WFP works closely with national and international non-governmental organisations to distribute food assistance to people in need. This is achieved through both regular deliveries from inside Syria as well as cross border deliveries. The ability to deliver assistance through cross border operations was achieved through various UN Security Council Resolutions, and WFP is currently relying on cross border operations from Turkey and Jordan to reach people in all affected areas.
The highly insecure environment has had a significant impact on WFP’s ability to reach those most in need, living in areas subject to access constraints. However, recently there has been increased access and WFP, in collaboration with other key humanitarian actors in Syria, conduct joint humanitarian convoys to reach people in need living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. WFP programmes also include a School Snacks Programme, which is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF to encourage school children to enrol and stay in school. The children are provided with a fortified date bar that also improve their micronutrient intake. WFP also seeks to develop livelihood and resilience activities for 500,000 people. Besides delivering food assistance to affected population, WFP provides logistic support to other humanitarian agencies. This includes transportation, storage, and handling of humanitarian supplies. Obviously, the work environment is not safe; however, WFP has put in place all necessary security measures to safeguard the lives of employees and assets of the organisation.
A ceasefire was recently agreed in the context of peace negotiations. Earlier this week the Russians announced their withdrawal from the battlefield. How do you think these changes will impact the overall conflict?
FA: So far, the cessation of hostilities continues to hold across the country allowing for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to hard-to-reach and besieged areas. We hope that the security situation improves nationwide, enabling us to reach people in need across the country. More importantly, on the humanitarian level, this has provided a window of opportunity to reach more people in need across the country. As long as the cessation holds, the better it is for the humanitarian aid agencies to provide humanitarian assistance within Syria, which not only will save lives but will also help to improve the well-being of people. The decrease in violence levels provides some space for affected communities to begin resume normal activities in areas where feasible.
The peace talks feature representatives from various groups including the Assad regime, minority groups and women’s groups. If we assume a peace agreement will be reached, how inclusive will this agreement be, and what do you see as next steps towards development?
FA: Successful peace negotiations will have an enormous impact on the country, the region and the global community at large. WFP welcomes any step that would put an end to the ongoing conflict and allow UN agencies to operate and provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people inside Syria. WFP will be able to run livelihood programmes in collaboration with other agencies to support communities and individuals in need. A peace agreement will mean that children can return to school without fear of insecurity; that the economy will start to recover; that farmers can return to their fields to cultivate their lands. Humanitarian and development agencies are in Syria to support Syrians. Attaining an all-inclusive peace agreement will provide an environment for recovery and reconstruction. It is estimated that it will require over 160 billion dollars to rebuild Syria. This is beyond the capability of any single agency. WFP will work as part of the UN system with the public and private sectors to address the identified needs to help Syrians get back on their feet and enhance self-reliance.
Your work in Syria is coming to an end and you will soon be serving WFP in Yemen: another unstable, risky environment. Yet you choose to combine this work with the GPAC² programme – aiming to get a PhD, while your family is mainly overseas in the UK. How will you combine all these factors and lead a balanced life?
FA: Working in high-conflict zones, while pursuing a PhD and having my family overseas naturally presents a significant challenge to my work-life-balance. However, I am confident that over time as I progress in my studies, I will be able to develop a solid routine. My family has been very supportive of my decision to enrol in a PhD programme. Moreover, the fact that I will continue to work in a non-family duty station will hopefully also afford me time to work on my studies. Finally, my area of study is closely related to the priorities of my organisation, therefore making the research work more exciting, and I am able to see how concepts becomes real, and that is the beauty of this journey.
The views set out here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the United Nations. Neither the United Nations institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.
WFP / A.Etafa
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