The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) has responded to the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria by distributing food baskets to those affected. “We started our operation,” said Karine Ataya, private partnerships lead for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at WFP, speaking to Khaleej Times on the sideline of an event in Dubai. “The food is being shipped as we speak. Our teams are all on the ground.”

The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation saving lives in emergencies and providing food assistance. The program, which has been headquartered in Dubai since 2001, said they are in the process of providing supplies to the affected region.

“We have one of the biggest warehouses here in the UAE,” she said. “We are ready to load a plane in 4 hours and reach a destination within 6 hours. We usually have food at borders that is pushed into countries in case of emergencies like this. Right now, that is what we have done.”

Foreign aid from multiple countries, including the UAE, has started arriving in Turkey and Syria after a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the countries on Monday, February 7. The death toll from the disaster has climbed to over 10,000, with despair and anger growing over the pace of rescue efforts.

Karine said their mode of giving help keeps changing according to the situation. “We believe cash is king,” she said. “It lasts longer and gives people the freedom to choose. However, in this situation with widespread destruction, we are giving out food baskets as a lot of people don’t have homes and they still need access to food.”

According to Karine, they will be monitoring the situation in the countries to see how it changes. “For example, when the explosion happened in Lebanon, we gave them food baskets with items that we knew they would not find in the supermarket, because of the situation there,” she said. “It was a box for a family of 5 and included rice, lentils and tuna, among other things. Once cooked, it would come to about 1,300 calories per person. So, each of our food baskets are very well studied and planned. Later when things started stabilising, we switched to giving them cash.”

The WFP is likely to follow a similar approach in Turkey and Syria as well.

'Heart to give'

Karine was speaking at a Tech 4 good hackathon event organised by food delivery company Talabat, in order to brainstorm on how best to make it easy for the community to donate to charity.

“What is unique to the Mena region is that people here have the heart to give,” said Yi-Wei Ang, Chief Product Officer at talabat. “The role this region plays in global food donation is huge. Every year, we see so many meals being donated and so much money being given.”

Karine agreed. “The idea for food is very cultural for us,” she said. “In the Middle East, you show generosity with the food you share with people. Having more people at the table is what we do best.”

Those wishing to donate to the WFP’s work in Turkey and Syria can do so on the agency’s website.


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