With the fighting in Eastern Ghouta again in the news, we take a look at the lifeline Red Cross food parcels give to those in desperate need.

On the 28 December 2017 a convoy of trucks pulled into the Syrian city of Deir Ez Zor.

The trucks brought over 9,000 British Red Cross food parcels to support people in desperate need.

After almost seven years of conflict, millions of people across Syria do not have enough to eat. Many are living in freezing temperatures without blankets or heating. For them, the Red Crescent emblem – that ensures the safe passage of these trucks – brings with it a huge sense of relief.

But in such a protracted and complex conflict, the journey to places like Deir Ez Zor is far from simple.

Rapid response

“There is often only a few hours’ notice to mobilise the distribution of food parcels,” said Hannah Woodley, programme officer for Syria and Lebanon with the British Red Cross.

In the case of Deir Ez Zor, the city had recently become accessible after a three-year siege.

“They had been surrounded by conflict and had to survive with really limited resources,” continued Hannah. “Airdrops have been the only way to deliver some humanitarian relief.”

The food parcels were put together in Beirut before being transported into Syria.

From there, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) pre-positions food parcels in their warehouses throughout the country. That way when it becomes safe to visit a particular town, SARC are able to get the aid where it’s needed rapidly.

What’s in a food parcel?

Each parcel is designed to meet the basic food needs of a family of five for a month. Though it cannot contain everything, so fresh items need to be picked up locally where possible.

“They contain the staple food items that people need to keep going until another food distribution or the local market can get back underway,” said Hannah.

In situations where people are on the move, or are not able to cook food, then canned food parcels are provided.

“In different countries there will be different contents,” Hannah continued. “The food parcels the British Red Cross supply to Syria contain items such as rice, lentils, beans and bulgar, as well as supporting staples like salt and oil.”

Food has to be capable of being stored for months ready for when it’s needed.

“The parcels have got to be robust – but with a good nutritional content,” said Hannah.

A man collects a food parcel in Homs, Syria.

Packages including vegetable seeds, fertilizer and gardening equipment were recently delivered in Homs, Syria. Credit: Anas Kambal /ICRC

Getting aid where it’s needed most

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has unrivalled access to communities and areas that other agencies can’t work in.

That means we are able target food parcels where they are needed most. Often they are delivered to newly displaced people, and to people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.

“SARC are completely invaluable,” said Hannah. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.

“Their volunteers very often come from the affected communities themselves. They can build that understanding and trust – they are instantly more accepted.”

Sixty-five SARC volunteers have died in the line of duty since the Syrian conflict began. In October 2017, one SARC volunteer was killed and another was wounded in the line of duty in Deir Ez Zor.

SARC volunteers and staff continue to risk their lives to deliver food parcels and other aid items to those most in need.

photo of the response by the first-aid and ambulance teams of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent - Douma Branch

SARC is responding following the recent violence in and around Douma, Syria

The British Red Cross food parcels distributed in Deir Ez Zor are one of many shipments delivered through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. In December, SARC delivered 7,000 British Red Cross food parcels and 10,000 mattresses to the southern rural areas of Al Raqqa.

Last winter, we provided 80,000 food parcels, 75,000 blankets and 30,000 sleeping mats to people in desperate need.

Please give what you can to support this vital work.