A selection from the diary of Canadian aid worker Simon Hacker, responsible for getting food to millions in Syria.
As the war in Syria nears the end of its third year, more than 125,000 people have been killed and some 6.5 million have had to flee their homes. About 2.1 million of them have sought refuge abroad; the rest remain in Syria, many of them unable to access normal supplies of food.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has identified four million Syrians at risk, unable to get the most basic foods because of the war that swirls all around them.
Into this maelstrom steps Canadian Simon Hacker, a humanitarian logistician who directs the distribution of emergency food supplies throughout the country. He is based in Damascus.
Mr. Hacker must dispatch enough food for more than 135,000 people every day if he is to have any hope of feeding four million people once every month. That’s the equivalent of delivering a month’s worth of food to every person in Kingston, Ont., or Moncton, N.B., every day. However, the people in Syria are spread around a war-torn country, separated by numerous checkpoints and battle lines and under constant threat of attack.
“Fall short one day,” Mr. Hacker says, “and we’ll have to make it up on the next.”
It’s a mantra he repeats every night before going to bed.
The Syrian conflict has riven the nation and put the entire region on edge. In the days ahead, Mr. Hacker will be sharing his unique perspective on the country and how the UN is working to help.
Today, Mr. Hacker shares a diary of his life in Syria, from a day this month.
It’s 5 a.m.and I am woken by the alarm on my iPhone. I quickly scroll through my e-mails. I turn on the BBC to see if anything interesting happened overnight but it’s mostly the loop from the day before. [It’s only 3 a.m. in London.] I try CNN, same thing. [It’s 10 p.m. the night before in Atlanta and Toronto.] I muster the strength to put on my kit for my morning run in the gym. I’ve been running religiously since 2008.
After my run, I take a quick elevator ride to arrive at my desk just before 8 a.m. The banquet halls of this major international hotel have been turned into the command centre for the largest humanitarian operation in the world.
When I first arrived in Damascus in June, 2012, I lived in an apartment like all the other staff. But, after the assassination of the country’s defence minister and other car bomb attacks, we were all ordered in December, 2012, to move into this hotel, considered one of just two facilities secure enough to house us and our control room.
From 8 a.m. until 9:30,my team of 30 slowly trickles in. It gives me time to file the 200 or so e-mails I received the day before. I wait anxiously for the logistics assistants who will update me on the loading of the trucks. [Food is brought into Syria overland and by air and housed in our warehouses. Other trucks then pick up their cargo and fan out across the country.] Throughout the day these logistics assistants will text me updates every time trucks arrive at the warehouses. It’s the single most important indicator of our progress. We have to feed 150,000 people today.
At about 10 a.m. I receive an urgent phone call from a colleague in the field. A new armed group has taken part of the road to the eastern city of Deir Ezzor and has hijacked two of our trucks. I quickly call another colleague and ask him to find out what’s going on. It’s not the first time this has happened. The good news is that we’re often able to negotiate the trucks back. I remain hopeful.
The drivers are some of the bravest people working in our operation. They have an amazing ability to navigate around the country, the conflict and the armed groups in a way no one else can. With danger lurking around every corner, they cross multiple front lines, get detained at checkpoints – sometimes for days at a time – or worse.One of our drivers was hijacked and detained by an armed group for 20 days during which he was tortured terribly. His toes were cut off, one at a time, and his Achilles and other tendons were severed. He’ll never walk again. His crime? He was an Alawite driving through rebel Sunni-controlled territory at a time of sectarian clashes along the Mediterranean coast. The food he was delivering was to go to civilians of both sects.