World Food Program: The Importance of Providing Food Assistance in the Syrian Crisis

By Chira Tudoran

The Syrian crisis

In conflict, basic resources such as food, water, healthcare and shelter are oftentimes used as tools for control, either by the regimes of the respective countries, foreign patrons, or rebel groups. The Syrian civil war is a prime example of this, as states and non-state actors have used the resources available to restrict and subject the Syrians involuntarily entangled in the conflict. This interview will address the impact of the World Food Programme’s efforts, which helped Syrians against the practice of using resources for the purpose of control.


The World Food Programme (WFP) is the leading humanitarian organization saving lives and changing lives, delivering food assistance in emergencies in conflict zones and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience (WFP, 2020). This means focusing on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid and special operations. In 2019, WFP assisted 97 million people in 88 countries. On the basis of these humanitarian actions as well as preventing hunger being used as a tool during conflict and war zones, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.

Frederik Copper – A Short Introduction

Frederik Copper has had over 10 years of international experience within the humanitarian field, and more specifically in the emergency preparedness and response area. He has worked in various United Nations (UN) specialized agencies including WFP & World Health Organisation (WHO). Copper’s current position is as Techincal Officer in the Country Simulation Exercise and After Action Review at the WHO.

In this interview, we will discuss his time working at the WFP from 2011 until 2016. Before we begin, I would like to mention Copper’s job history during this timeframe. His first job was as an Emergency Preparedness and Response Officer (April 2011 – September 2013) at the WFP HQ in Rome. In Jordan, Copper held the position of Information Management (IM) Officer at the Syria Regional Emergency Coordinator Office (April 2013 – March 2015). Later in Egypt, Copper held the position of IM Programme Officer of the Egypt Country Office (April 2015 – March 2016).

Interview questions

  1. Mr. Copper, could you tell me what did your work entail at WFP during those years? 

At the Syria Regional Emergency Coordinator Office, I was part of the Syria Crisis Response. This meant that our operation had several objectives.

First of all, providing food assistance to Syrian Internal displaced populations (IDP’s) inside Syria as well as Syrian refugees that were mainly hosted in neighboring countries. This part of my work meant giving food to more than 4.1 million people. Connected to this, we also sent food rations to hard-to-reach areas. Guided by humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality, these contributors often had to negotiate with multiple conflicting parties and survive under treacherous natural conditions to reach those in need of relief.

What we also focused on were cross-border operations. This meant bringing the dispatches and humanitarian aid needed to people, in opposition held areas. The inability to reach these areas from inside Syria due to ongoing fighting and insecurity necessitates a constant humanitarian response. Thankfully, our aid reached 721,450 people in May 2015.

The last objective we had to take into account was contingency planning regarding the food sector. Here coordination with partners and stakeholders is critical to ensure the food is prepositioned to those areas with the biggest needs.

2. As you already mentioned, you worked in Jordan to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. What did you see on a daily basis? How was a “normal” day there in 2015?

Well, the “normal” day was difficult to say the least. Food insecurity was what made life abnormal for many Syrian IDP’s and refugees.

For example, the proportion of Syrian refugees considered food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity had risen from 47 percent in 2014 up to 86 percent in 2015 in Jordanian communities. Not only was the quantity of food lower, but also the nutrition. Meat, fish, and chicken were completely cut from their diet. Not to mention the lack of vegetables.

Moreover, more families were in debt. In 2015, twice as many households as compared with 2014 reported to have over 500 Jordanian Dinars of debt. This debt had several tragic repercussions on the respective households. According to monitoring and focus group discussions, at the end of March 2015, 20% of parents had already withdrawn their children from school. In Mafraq for example, 40% of female heads of household & 27% of male heads of household sent children to beg. On top of this, the use of asset-depleting coping strategies, such as the sale of household goods, had increased by 50% that same year.

So at the time we were faced with this awful reality, and we looked at the impact of this scenario being maintained. The snowball effect would begin with protection implications, and by this I mean two things. Firstly, the excessive displacement in Jordan will make it more of a possibility for the displaced Syrians to go back to their home country. Secondly, the food insecurity would deepen but also increase the sexual violence, such as prostitution and human trafficking.

Other than protection implications, on the political side, you have the countries and the individuals. Food insecurity would further deteriorate the relationship between host communities and countries. Other factors related to these are one – the amplified competition with locals for jobs and resources, and two – the heightened burden on governments. Individually, food insecurity would increase the influence of extremist groups over refugees.

That was the case in 2015. If you or anyone is interested, look at the Syria – Food Security Bulletins, these are Analyses assessments and case studies published on the WFP website.

3. What was different than expected regarding your work in tackling food insecurity? What surprised you? What affected you, personally?

The dedication and resilience of the Syrian people was the biggest surprise to me. For people being on the run and having lost so much in live, I was surprised to see that most of them were very positive and thankful for all the support they received despite the desperate and uncertain situation they were in.

4. Were you in contact with the people you helped? Did any of the people you helped share their stories with you?

Yes absolutely. I remember one field trip I made to Northern Lebanon. Lebanon at the time hosted most refugees of any country in the region, and at the height of the crisis it had ¼ of the population comprising of Syrian refugees. It was here where I saw the desperation and fear people have when coming from conflict zones. 

5. Seeing the people’s perspective in the Syrian crisis, what can you tell me, as a university student in the Netherlands, to not just understand this crisis but also help?

With any crisis you see that in the heat of the moment and with all media attention, many people and governments want to help with all good intentions. However, for me that would be too much, too late. It is much more effective to prepare and mitigate for these type of crisis than to wait for them to happen and then to respond and support. Preparedness is often an area that is forgotten and lacks the resources for true readiness. This can also been seen in the current COVID-19 crisis. If governments would spend a fraction of what is spend now during the response, the world would probably be much better prepared and the pandemic would have much less impact in terms of lives, livelihoods, social as well as economically. However the fact is that preparedness is much less “sexy” to fund and support compared to response so that is the root cause. Crisis and disasters can never be 100% prevented but, but if we fail to prepare be prepared to fail!

6. Given the COVID-19 crisis we in the European Union (EU) are in right now, what do you think about the future Syrians will face? Can we and will we continue to help them?

The COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented event that has global impact and effects all citizens around the globe, not just the EU. The Syrian crisis is more of a regional crisis but has a direct effect on the EU as many Syrian refugees want to migrate to the EU and therefore it is in the interest of the EU to find a (regional) solution. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest challenge is to overcome national and regional solutions, especially with regards to vaccinating its own population. People must come first over short term profits or interests. It is in countries self-interests to shun vaccine nationalism, and therefore the EU was one of the founders and supporters of the ACT accelerator. The world will not be safe before we are all safe and have equitable access to vaccines and people in humanitarian settings are even more vulnerable and therefore should never be forgotten!

In November last year, the EU provided support to WFP in regards to the Syrian crisis. In the face of unprecedented food insecurity, WFP welcomed a donation of €2 million from the EU. This money will be used for monthly food assistance for Syrian families facing these levels of hunger. Now, WFP provides 4.8 million Syrians each month with food, nutrition support, school meals and snacks as well as assistance designed to help them rebuild their livelihoods.

Concluding remarks

Mr. Copper, thank you for answering my questions.


Monthly Briefing – Syria Crisis Response – June 2015

Syria – Food Security Bulletins: Analyses assessments and case studies

The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator

European Union provides support to WFP

Edited by Zuzanna Mietlińska

Illustration by Emma van den Nouweland