For over a year now I’ve been in contact with some people at the United Nations World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization concerned with hunger and food security. We’ve been plotting to tell some stories about the complexity and necessity of feeding the world’s displaced people in an engaging way. Now we’re finally getting started and soon I’ll be leaving for northern Iraq. There, I’ll begin researching the current situation facing Kurdish refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict and the violent push of the Islamic State. The situation is incredibly dire, especially with winter coming. In the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq the temperatures can range from 40 degrees Fahrenheit down to near 0 this time of year.
Compounding the issue, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported a $58 million funding shortfall this year, even as the displacement of human beings has spiked considerably throughout the region. This funding shortfall threatens to leave almost a million people without food and proper shelter as the world turns colder.
Let me hit you with the numbers. There are currently 1.9 million internally displaced people and 225,000 refugees in the region (a “refugee” has crossed an international border, an “IDP” seeks refuge inside their own nation). And 300 to 500 more refugees arrive daily in Northern Iraq from the Kobanî vicinity of northern Syria where the Islamic State succeeded in capturing 350 Kurdish villages in early October and where an active siege still rages. Of those almost 2 million people, some 800,000 are in need of shelter assistance, while 940,000 lack basic winter household items. With the funding shortfall, the UNHCR can only reach 240,000 displaced people instead of the 600,000 they had planned. They will not be able to provide tent insulation kits or sound structures for 140,000 people, and 150,000 people won’t be receiving items like heaters or kerosene.
I believe that this troubled region is the center of the world right now. I believe that no human being should die of starvation. I believe that those of us who are born in a country without war and eat three meals a day have won a lottery. We didn’t earn this, we’re not entitled because of it. We were the lucky ones. We spun a wheel and beat the odds. I believe it’s the duty of the fortunate to witness and help those who were born into unfortunate times in stressed places. I believe that the mission of the WFP is the foundation of civilization. I believe that the people who work for the WFP are real heroes and I can only hope with all my heart that I will be an asset to them instead of a burden while I’m there.
In 2007, researching for Unknown Soldier, I spent a month in Acholiland, Uganda and the surrounding areas speaking to child soldiers, staying with families who had their children kidnapped, and eating dinner with people who were victims of unspeakable brutality during the conflict between the Ugandan People’s Defence Force and the Lord’s Resistance Army. I saw how war destroys culture, family structure, generational ties and hope. Since that trip I have been back here in the States making superhero comics, watching movies, eating well, but – always – there was a sense that I was shirking something, hiding from something. It’s good to be free and full, but with it comes a responsibility to care about those who aren’t. This holiday season everyone reading this will be warm and well-fed, so I want to ask you all to please, please donate something, anything, a dollar, right now, to the WFP. And bear in mind, WFP relies entirely on voluntary contributions to finance its humanitarian and development projects. It receives no funding from the UN.
Thanks for reading. I’ll give you way more information about the project this research is in service to when it’s the right time, and I’ll fill you in more on what I saw and where I was upon my return.
Here’s a 60 Minutes piece on the WFP’s work with refugees in Jordan. Watch it to get a sense of what you’ll be supporting when you give to the WFP. It’s an incredible story.
Much of the information for this post was from, “UNHCR warns of winter crisis ahead for almost a million displaced people in Iraq, Syria” There’s a lot more data there.
Further information here, “Displaced Iraqis face new threat as winter approaches” by Chloe Cornish