Beirut: Muslims began observing the dawn-to-dusk fast for Ramadan across the Middle East on Wednesday, even as the region is shaken by the crisis in Egypt and the UN food agency warned that Syria’s civil war has left 7 million people in need of food aid.
Streets are decorated with colourful lanterns, families feast together at night, the devout pray even more and regional cooking shows obsess over new takes on classic dishes for the Ramadan evening meal that breaks the daytime fasting.
But the hardships in Syria, where the civil war is now in its third year, have eroded much of the Ramadan joy.
On Wednesday, the World Food Programme said it needed $27 million every month to deal with the growing ranks of Syrians made hungry because of the war. If the organisation did not provide for them, “they simply will not eat,” said Mohannad Hadi, WFP’s emergency coordinator in Syria.
Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 as an Arab Spring-inspired uprising against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime. It has since descended into a civil war that has killed over 100,000 people, displaced over 5 million and turned over 1.5 million into refugees, according to UN figures.
“People come by the kitchen just begging for scraps, it tears the heart,” said an activist in the rebel-held northern Syrian city of Maarat Al Numan.
Food prices have risen five-fold in Syria over the past months and shortages in fuel are widespread. Farmers have abandoned their fields, setting the stage for a broader disaster next year, the WFP has warned.
“I can’t buy necessities anymore,” lamented Qassim Al Zamel, a 37-year-old employee in Damascus. “’’Yesterday, I bought 2 kilograms of potatoes, one kilogram of beans and two kilograms of tomatoes with 1,000 pounds. I stopped buying meat.”
Meanwhile, UAE’s Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation has announced aid initiatives and milestones achieved with regards to the crisis in Syria.
This came during a press conference held in Beirut, which was attended by Mohammed Al Khoury, Director-General of The Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, Hamad Al Junaibi, acting UAE ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmed Al Dahairi, representative of Foreign Affairs Ministry’s delegation, Wael Abu Faour, Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs, and Brigadier General Pierre Salem, the Lebanese Interior Minister.
With the worsening refugee situation in Syria, the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation is resolute in its efforts to provide necessary relief to the displaced by way of strategically placed mobile hospital camps, relief funds and supplies, avowing its loyal support to those whose lives have been disrupted by the ongoing clashes.
Mohammed Al Khoury, Director-General of the Foundation, emphasised that this initiative is a directive from President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and would cover all the displaced in Lebanon, regardless of whether they are registered or not. He added, “Our top priority is to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, and to also afford the refugees every assistance we possibly can. We are doing this by working very intimately with UAE government missions and embassies in neighbouring countries, and we are certain that our perseverance and dedication in this matter will see us through.”
Wael Abu Faour the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs, praised the role of the UAE and Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, saying that this aid would bolster the efforts of the Lebanese government to handle the situation and provide assistance to the increasing number of displaced Syrian nationals.
The Lebanese Interior Minister, Brigadier General Pierre Salem, said that the UAE has provided immense support to Lebanon, as it continues to do so even now. He commended the initiative, and lauded the Khalifa Bin Zayed Foundation for its benevolence to countries in dire need of assistance for its indigent populations.
Hamad Mohammad Al Junaibi, UAE acting Ambassador in Beirut, said the UAE is one of the major supporters in the plight of the Syrian people, and will continue to be steadfast in its efforts to provide all the assistance required.
In Lebanon alone, the Khalifa Bin Zayed Foundation has issued funds that have benefited an estimated 135,000 families.
The Khalifa Bin Zayed Foundation and the UAE government has also united with its embassy counterparts in the neighbouring countries of Jordan and Turkey to provide relief and medical supplies that aim to improve the debilitating plight of Syrian refugees, also urging other countries and humanitarian organisations to strengthen their efforts to bring hope, safety and security to the crisis victims.
Twenty UAE volunteers have been placed throughout the camps in the countries where Syrian refugees have been displaced, to assist wherever needed and report back on the situation to the Foundation.
The Foundation was the first to send aid to the Syrian cause since it began in 2011, and has to date disbursed relief funds that have benefited 267,730 victims. The supplies included healthcare kits, food, cooking equipments, blankets, and medical equipment to Dar Al Shifa Hospital.
The Foundation has also provided medical aid and food supplies via relief and hospital camps in Jordan, treating sometimes up to 600 refugees a day, with its medical teams working around the clock at the deployed camps to provide immediate response to the wounded and traumatised victims.