60 Minutes: War and Hunger
60 Minutes shared a report about the World Food Programme, launched by the United Nations in 1961, and it was America’s idea. Now, the WFP feeds 80 million annually, and it is first on the scene in a hunger-related crisis, like war. Scott Pelley visited Syria to get the story.
60 Minutes traveled the border between Jordan and Syria in search of war refugees. Eventually, there was a camp of refugees who had marched hundreds of miles to escape the horrors of war at home. More than one million have made the crossing into Jordan over the past three years of Syria’s civil war.
60 Minutes: United Nations World Food Programme
They came from diverse backgrounds in their home country, and some traveled 10 days to reach their destination. Most were motivated by the safety and future of their offspring. One woman, Halima, a mother of nine, hoped that the five kids she traveled with would be safer in a new home. Her husband traveled via a different route with their other four children.
Andrew Harper is the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, and he said hundreds like Halima and her family are making the crossing each day. Unsurprisingly, those who make it to the end are not in great shape. Some of the kids are walking without shoes, and many do not have much in the way of clothing.
The UN and troops from Jordan met with the families, where they were provided with food and water. Then, everyone loaded up to be transported to a UN camp. Once everyone was aboard, Pelley claimed “it felt like hope” when the caravan began its journey.
60 Minutes: Syrian Civil War Starvation
Harper said that conditions in Syria are getting worse, and that is why people are still making the trip. Starvation has been a weapon in the uprising against dictator Bashar al Assad. Cutting off food has been a strategy in the conflict, which has led communities to eat dogs, cats, and sparse vegetation.
“Are we willing to lose a generation of children to hunger?” asked World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin. The United States provides more than 1/3 of the WFP’s $4 billion budget each year. She said that efforts in Syria are the organization’s largest ever.
There, UN workers are being shot at. “The conflict doesn’t end because people need to eat,” Harper said, acknowledging the reality of providing aid relief in a war zone.
60 Minutes: WFP Hommes Intervention
Inside Syria, Matthew Hollingworth is leading the WFP’s mission. There, about six million Syrians cannot count on where their next meal will come from. In February 2014, he helped food reach its destination in Homs, an area that had been cut off for 600 days; residents were wasting away.
A three-day ceasefire was negotiated in Homs, but once aid workers arrived, they learned that residents’ priorities were to be evacuated. As women and children started limping toward the relief vehicles, snipers began firing. Hollingworth and his team made the choice to move their armored vehicles to stop the shooting.
Despite opposition, Hollingworth and the UN team stayed for the mission, even after mortar fire again at the halfway point of their relief efforts. They simply asked that all sides obey the agreement for the remaining time, and that seemed to work. About 1,300 were evacuated during that visit, and the UN’s WFP left behind enough food to feed 2,500 for one month.
60 Minutes: Syrian Refugees on YouTube
YouTube has been an unlikely source of communication for the estimated one million who still cannot get needed food or supplies. They have been sharing their stories in personal videos on the website, and 60 Minutes tracked down one man who had managed to find a way out.
The man, whose name was not used, felt that starving people was less humane than bombing them, explaining that at least in a shell attack, your death would be relatively quick, compared to the months it might take to finally starve. “People lost faith with the world, with their families, even with God,” the man said. Nobody understood that we can die from hunger in the 21st century in Syria.”
Pelley pointed out that shell attacks and nerve gas did not break spirits in the same way that hunger was able to. The World Food Programme was founded under President Eisenhower, following the starvation deaths of 70 million in the early 20th century. Currently, its 14,000 operatives are in 75 countries where war or weather are having an impact on hunger.
60 Minutes: World Food Programme Vouchers
The WFP also teaches farming and supports small farms, and even though the U.S. pays most of the tab, WFP is not funded through the United Nations. All funding is donated from governments, companies, and individuals. But things are getting tight in the areas around Jordan and Syria, where those refugees are staying in a camp built to house 130,000.
With more than 6.5 million Syrians displaced, this may not be enough to accommodate all those who need assistance. In addition to providing three meals per day, the camp is set up on a voucher system, allowing families to determine how and when they want to eat.
“It gives them a choice, more than anything else, and it gives them respect,” Cousin said. The World Food Programme has also built supermarkets, and now families have the chance to obtain and prepare their own meals. Meanwhile, each day more people are making the journey, despite the reality that there is no end to the war in sight. Jordan has had to cut back on how many refugees it can accept, and WFP is facing a budget crunch. But they are still accomplishing quite a bit of good.