The current study evaluates the World Food Program in Syria. Since its inception six years ago, various questions have been raised over the way the aid agency distributes food products across Syria and the effects it has on food security in the country. A growing body of literature indicates that the program is administered in a manner that violates the principles of neutrality, independence, and impartiality. While government-controlled territories receive their fair share of aid, people in rebel-controlled areas are starving to death. As a result, the evaluation seeks to establish the effectiveness of the aid program. It will enable the World Food Program and funders to learn about the weaknesses and strengths of the program, and accordingly, develop measures to improve the policy. In addition, the evaluation will shed further light on other factors, other than humanitarian aid, which can be used to promote food security and sustainability in Syria.
The study will be carried out using an experimental design, and quantitative data will be collected to test the hypotheses. The data for the study will be collected from two cities in the country, Idleb and Latakia. In fact, Idlib will be used as the treatment group while Latakia will be used as the control group. The data will be collected using surveys on the sample of subjects drawn from the two cities. The first question that will be answered using the collected data is whether the World Food Program has contributed to an increase in food security in Syria in the period from 2011 to 2016. The second questions will be whether the World Food Program has led to a decrease in depression in Syria in the period from 2011 to 2016. The two questions will be answered from statistical analysis of the data from the surveys.
Chapter One: Introduction
Background of the Study
The civil unrest in Syria has triggered one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern-day history. After half a decade of unrelenting conflict, more than 4.5 million Syrians have relocated to other countries and virtually half of the population has been internally displaced. The United Nations (UN) reports indicate that the death toll is at least 250,000 people, and the Syrian Center for Policy Research claims the number could be approximately 470,000. Although myriad deaths are a result of mass killings and shootings, there is growing evidence that starvation, lack of medical care or dehydration also contribute to significant loss of lives in Syria. This is despite the fact that the World Food Program (WFP) alongside other aid agencies, including Mercy Corps and Red Crescent, provide 3,000 trucks of food to Syrian refugees every month.
Research has indicated that unequal distribution of humanitarian aid may be one of the major reasons for which an increasingly growing number of Syrians are starving to death, regardless of the availability of food assistance. Of course, the WFP largely relies on state-approved local agencies, including Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), to distribute aid, which implies that the process indirectly serves the whims of those in power. In addition, Syria’s economy has consistently plummeted amid the ongoing conflict, declining by more than 60 percent from 2010 to 2015. The Assad regime has struggled to deal with the effects of reduced subsidies, diminished domestic production and consumption, high inflation, widespread infrastructure damage, and international sanctions. The result has been failure to provide food to the people accompanied by starvation and related deaths. Equally important, the effect of climate change may have contributed to increased number of starvation-related deaths. This is partially due to decrease in amount of rainfall, and the fact that agriculture products form a significant portion of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Research interest has increased to establish the status of the crisis in the country, although a lot needs to be done to establish the food security reality. Given the reality that the World Food Program is one of the main sources of food support in the country, it should be one of the focuses of the current research investigations, especially those associated with the impact on food security. Thus, the current study evaluates the effectiveness of WFP as far as increasing food security and decreasing the level of depression in the country is concerned.
Statement of the Problem
Emergency food aid is considered to be a compassionate response of the global community to complex emergencies and natural disasters. As a matter of fact, humanitarian relief efforts are not only benign and benevolent practices, but they are also seen as practical means of improving lives of distressed people. However, a large body of literature indicates that humanitarian aid during conflicts can lead to unintended consequences. For instance, humanitarian assistance, through misallocation, larceny, or diversion, can bolster some warring parties at the expense of others. Moreover, strategic interlinking of external intervention and aid can serve neo-liberal agendas or foreign policy objectives. During the ongoing conflict in Syria, the WFP has had varied inadvertent consequences. The program appears to be inconsistent with its founding principle, neutrality, in the sense that it has contributed to supporting political outcomes and sovereignty. This is largely because WFP officials rely on pro-government agencies to distribute food products to the locals. The result has been discriminate supply of essential commodities with rebel-controlled territories at times failing to get their fair share of humanitarian aid.
Of course, the UN has made several attempts to address this problem. For example, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) decision to pass Resolution 2165 in July 2014 aimed to bypass the Assad administration. In particular, it sanctioned cross-border delivery of aid from Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan without the permission of the Damascus regime. However, the fear that the decision could affect majority of the people in dire need of aid forced WFP to negotiate over access and maintain close ties with the government (Jackson, 2013). The implication is that food aid continues to be concentrated in government-controlled regions, while other areas are considered to be “hard to reach” or “inaccessible” to paint a picture that the program is in line with the principle of neutrality. Additionally, research has not been effectively carried out to establish the possible unintended consequences of the food programs and provide concerted efforts to address them for the intended recipients to benefit. Starvation is a serious problem in countries such as Syria, but programs that are ineffective only make the problem worse.
- Has the World Food Program led to an increase in food security in Syria from 2011 to 2016?
- Has the world food program led to a decrease in depression in Syria from 2011 to 2016?
There are two hypotheses that will be tested using the data collected in the study. The first hypothesis is that the World Food Program has led to an increase in food security in Syria from 2011 to 2016. The second hypothesis is that the World Food Program has contributed to a decrease in the depression in Syria from 2011 to 2016.
Chapter Two: Literature Review
According to Martinez & Eng (2016), food aid comes in handy as a form of humanitarian aid from the international community. During conflicts, especially for the people in the affected communities tend to suffer because of, among other issues, starvation. As such, such people require urgent response to their needs resulting from natural disasters as well as “complex emergencies.” Among the recent examples of the countries that required assistance in such conditions is Syria. Such is the case used in various studies to establish the effects of the humanitarian crises and the efforts to alleviate human suffering.
There are myriad theories that guide the operation of humanitarian aid in different parts of the world. To illustrate, UN’s “Principles of Humanitarian Action” help aid agencies to carry out their mandate with impartiality, independence, humanity, and neutrality. In particular, neutrality principle bars organizations from discriminating against warring parties or indulging in controversies of ideological, religious, racial, or political nature (World Food Program, 2016). It is conceptualized as both a pragmatic operational posture and an irreplaceable moral principle that allows aid agencies to gain access to affected populations without undue influence in their humanitarian operations.
There is a broad range of literature that considers food insecurity in Syria to be a result of climate change. Human activities, the argument goes, continue to contribute to emission of greenhouse gasses that trigger climate change (Chatel, 2014). For example, the ongoing conflict and use of lethal tools, including chemical weapons in 2013, may have caused an increase in greenhouse gases trapped in the air in Syria. Moreover, continued overreliance on underground water sources adversely affects the water cycle, consequently leading to decrease in amounts of rainfall. Equally important, Syria generates most of its energy from fossil fuels, which are well-documented sources of greenhouse gases. There are many authors who have evaluated the link between starvation-related death in Syria and the other three variables of the current study, that is, World Food Program, economy, and climate change.
For instance, Martinez and Eng (2016) argue that mismanagement of WFP, as well as lack of neutrality, may be one of the reasons for which many people are starving to death in Syria. They interview refugees and people in need of humanitarian aid in both opposition and government-controlled territories. The authors find that Assad administration controls most aid agencies in the country and that food and other necessities serve as efficient weapons and kickbacks for those who support the government. The implication is that people in opposition-controlled areas lack access to food and basic medical facilities and that WFP has failed to execute its mandate in a fair manner and without political interference. Arguably, one of the major weaknesses of the evaluation is that it only focuses on one variable, WFP, which is something that threatens the internal validity of the study. Furthermore, the evaluation relies on a relatively small sample, which further affects its validity.
Chatel (2014) is also one of the authors who have evaluated the root cause of starvation-related deaths in Syria. The author argues that drought and climate change have largely contributed to the food insecurity problem the country is facing today. In particular, he associates the drought with decrease in government subsidies following the global financial crisis, which affected the government’s ability to support wheat farmers. Moreover, he claims that Assad administration’s laxity to address climate change by adapting to changing social, economic, and environmental realities may have contributed to food insecurity. For example, long-term corruption and mismanagement of natural resources played a crucial role as far as proliferation of drought was concerned. The evaluation is based on review of past literature and data trends. Of course, the fact that it is not based on any statistical analysis is a major weakness. This means that it is difficult to generalize the findings of the study to other contexts.
In addition, Zurayk (2013) claims the continuing uprising in Syria is interwoven with chronic food insecurity and increased food prices. The evaluation relies on past literature and data that show the manner in which civil unrests affect food systems. His argument is that food shortage in Syria is a form of “food war” that has resulted from drought and climate change. The implication is that decrease in the amounts of rainfall has impacted the agricultural outcome, consequently leading to an increase in the number of people that are food insecure. Perhaps one of the striking weaknesses of the evaluation is that the author has not provided quantitative data to back his arguments. In addition, he has not defined the variables of the study, which is a threat to internal and external validity.
Moreover, World Food Program (2015) also details an evaluation of food aid program. The report focuses on four main areas; namely, strategic positioning and direction, program strategy, organizational effectiveness as well as operational performance and findings. The evaluation concluded that the program helped to stabilize and improve food security across the country. It further notes that WFP was scaled up swiftly, assisting more than 4 million people in Syria and close to 2 million others across the neighboring countries. The evaluation also highlights some of the challenges, including working closely with the Syrian government, lack of contingency plans to address shortfalls in donor funding, which have affected the program. Arguably, one of the major weaknesses of the study was the sample size. While the program has benefited million refugees, the data were only collected from 250 beneficiaries. Obviously, this was a threat to the internal and external validity of the study.
Furthermore, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2016) evaluates the food program in Syria. In particular, it contains findings of four key areas, that is, management, leadership, strategy, and the enabling system. The evaluation indicates that WFP has succeeded to distribute humanitarian aid not only in government-controlled areas but also in opposition-controlled territories. On the contrary, one of the conspicuous weaknesses of the evaluation is that it focuses on a relatively short period, which makes it difficult to gather sufficient and high-quality data. Moreover, the evaluation was based on data collected from people outside Syria, consequently meaning it overlooked beneficiaries of the program. Also, it relies on a relatively small sample size, which means the results do not represent the whole picture.
Chapter Three: Research Design and Methods
Different reasons have been suggested in previous studies for the analysis of the effectiveness or lack thereof of the WFP in addressing the food security issue in Syria as a model for similar effects in other countries around the world affected by the problem. The program is founded with funds from donations, which justifies the need to establish its effects on the recipients. This is also because the size of the program makes it a good target for misallocation, larceny, or diversion of funds to other projects. Hence, this means that evaluation of the effectiveness of the program provides an assurance that the funds are only used to help those in need of humanitarian aid. Equally important, evaluating the program would provide high-quality data that can be utilized to conduct the impact evaluation. Therefore, it would provide the evidence on whether the program is working and what might need to be done to make it more effective, especially if the program is not meeting its mandate.
Analysis of the effectiveness of the program can be conducted using various methods. Among these is the collection of quantitative data that can be analyzed to reveal the actual picture in the working of the program, its outcome, and the impact on the target audience. Hence, such aspect will be the focus of the current study.
The research will assume an experimental design. Thus, there will be two groups in the study, an experimental group, and the control group. In such a study, the experimental (treatment) group is the group that will be subjected to some conditions or some form of treatment, while the control group will not be subjected to any changes in their conditions for the sake of comparison and to establish the effect or lack thereof from the change in the conditions. The research will be based on a quantitative approach of data collection, which means that data will be collected in numerical form and then analyzed to test the two hypotheses. However, the collection of data will depend on the nature of the question. As a result, two data collection methods, a review of hospital records and a survey of the sample of the subjects from the two cities will take place.
It will be necessary to describe the results of the study and draw conclusions, by generalizing the findings, about the effectiveness of the program. The researcher will use quantitative data from the records and survey allowing for an effective analysis of the effectiveness of the program in addressing the food security problem in the country.
The purpose of the current study is to explore the effectiveness of WFP as far as sustaining food security and decreasing depression in Syria are concerned. It is worth noting that the design is a threat to external validity in that the study is based on a relatively small sample size. Moreover, narrative design was rejected in the sense that the study is not a mere chronological description of the past developments of the program, leaving the possibility of collecting data only on numerical form. Furthermore, the researcher will take into account experimental design, which will make a comparison of two groups; control and treatment.
Given the fact that it will not be possible to carry out the study by changing the condition within the period of the study, the changes used are those that are already in place in the country under study (Syria). The population for the study is people within two cities in the country, Latakia and Idlib. In this case, Idlib will be used as the treatment group given the fact that this is a city that has been affected by war in the country and the people in the city are recipients of the food assistance from the WFP. Latakia will be used as the control group because the city is not affected by war and thus, does not receive the food assistance from the WFP. The WFP’s Syria response has played a critical role in the city following the impact of the war, by offering food support to the affected persons.
According to the World Population Review, Latakia has a population of over 340,000 individuals while Idlib has a population of over 128,000 individuals. In fact, this is quite a large number of people within the two cities, and it is not possible to study all the cases in such a population. Thus, it is necessary to perform sampling to get the adequate sample from whom to collect the data. Sampling is an important process in any research as it helps the researcher to obtain the right sample of subjects from the target population. In sampling, any of the two general sampling methods can be used, probability and nonprobability sampling. The sample for each of the two groups will be n=100. This means that the treatment group will be made up of 100 subjects and so will be the control group.
For the current study, a probability sampling procedure is not possible because the cases are so diverse and far apart such that an effective sampling frame would be hard to achieve. Thus, a nonprobability sampling design would be more appropriate. A purposive sampling method will be used where a sample with the same characteristics will be obtained and used in the study. From Idlib, it is necessary that the persons selected are those individuals who receive or have received food assistance at some point within the period under study. Indeed, these are the individuals who are likely to provide reliable information on the effects the food assistance programs have had on the people. From Latakia, a sample will be selected from the people that have never received any food assistance from the WFP since they are supposed to be in the control group to test against those who have received the support and thus, establish effectiveness. Besides the fact that the participants must have received support (for the treatment) and should not have received (in case of the control), it is important that the purposively selected individuals basic reading and writing skills in order for them to be able to answer the survey questions.
Given the reality that the sampling design used is nonprobability, it will affect the generalizability of the findings to other settings or other countries besides Syria. Such sampling designs, unlike probability ones, have an effect on the representativeness of the results since the results are based on particular contexts. The results can only apply to the context within which the study is carried out. The effect of selection biases as well as the variable is one of the potential threats to validity given the reality that the selected sample will have some level of bias based on the places where the sample will be obtained. As suggested, this will be another effect on the representativeness of the results.
In obtaining the sample for the survey, the researcher anticipates the response rate to be close to 80 percent since some of the participants might fear and withdraw from the study (Gray, 2013). In fact, failure to cooperate is another factor that will affect the results of the study. Such low response rate may pose a threat to external validity of the study due to the corresponding decrease in sample size. Hence, such is a factor that will be considered in the analysis of the data given the reality that the sample is already small.
X’s and O’s frameworks
There are two research questions from which the X’s and O’s frameworks will be obtained. For the treatment group, recipients of food aid from the WFP, there are related variables, including education level, level of income and the world food program. The equation below represents this statement.
Y1 (food security for the Syrians) = X1 (education level for the Syrian) + X2 (income for Syrian) + X3 (World Food Program).
The variables, Y1, X1, X2, and X3, will be measured using surveys from the sample of the individuals assigned to the treatment and control groups.
The second Y that will be investigated in the study is the issue of depression for the Syrians. Depression will be measured against other variables, including safety, health, world food program, age, and relationships. The equation below represents this statement.
Y2 (depression for the Syrians) = X1 (Safety) + X2 (Health) + X3 (World food Program) + X4 (Age) + X5 (relationships).
The variables, Y2, X1, X2, X3, X4, and X5, will be investigated using surveys and focus group discussion.
One of the important measures in the study is the World Food Program. Precisely, the researcher will collect both primary quantitative data to establish the effectiveness of the WFP for the period between 2011 and 2016 on two other measures, food security, and depression in Syria. The primary data will be collected using a survey and focus groups. In addition, the economy is an independent variable of the current study, which will indicate the level of depression in the country. Akin to Chatel (2014), it will be measured using gross domestic product, which is a well-established variable in the field of economics. It represents the value of all goods and services produced in a country within a given year (Ackerman & Stanton, 2013). The beauty of the measure is that it can be obtained from different sources, including World Bank and other international organizations. However, it may not be very reliable, especially given that it is hard to accurately measure the level of economic activities in a war-torn country. The level of food security will be established using the data collected using the surveys and focus group.
The researcher will conduct the evaluation using a quantitative technique, survey. The food security data will mainly be collected using the survey and focus groups, both of which will provide quantitative data. Therefore, it implies that the researcher will prepare a questionnaire in advance and present it to the participants during data collection process (Gray, 2013) (see the survey questions in the appendix). Equally important, the participants will be recruited prior to the evaluation to allow the researcher to brief them about the objectives of the study. In particular, focus groups will consist of ten people; of course, this will help the researcher control participation of the group. Perhaps, privacy of the participants is one of the ethical considerations that the researcher will take into account. Hence, it indicates that participants will be allowed to take part in confidential interviews if they choose to remain anonymous because of the personal risk involved in providing sensitive data.
The quantitative approach will involve use of multiple linear regression to identify the relationship between the variables of the study. The implication is that the rate of depression and food security in the country will be evaluated using the data. The sample will include data of the quantitative data from 2011 through 2016. Arguably, the only ethical consideration that the researcher will take into consideration is accuracy of the data. In other words, it will be important to collect high-quality data to improve the validity of the study.
Before performing the data analysis, the primary data collected from surveys will be checked severally to confirm consistency, legibility, and completeness before they are analyzed (Gray, 2013). In this case, the data will be analyzed using SPSS. The researcher will run regression to test validity and reliability of the data. Therefore, this infers that statistically significance will be used to check validity of the data. The multiple-linear regression will help the researcher determine whether the independent variables explain the rate of depression and food security following implementation of food aid.
The level of depression and the level of food security are the two themes that will be tested with the collection of data. The data will be taken, which will compare the level of depression before the treatment, WFP food program in Syria, and following the provision of food aid to the needy individuals in the country such as in Idlib. The two themes are expected to change following the exposure of the program, either increase or decline depending on the effectiveness, or lack of the program. In case the program achieved its objectives, the level of food security would increase, while the level of depression would decrease. Regarding numerical value, it would be expected that an effective program would lower the rate of depression while increasing the rate of food security as measured regarding the number of individuals having access to their daily food needs.
The two regressive equations that will be used in the study include;
Y (food security for the Syrians) = X1 (education level for the Syrian) + X2 (income for Syrian) + X3 (World Food Program).
Y2 (depression for the Syrians) = X1 (Safety) + X2 (Health) + X3 (World food Program) + X4 (Age) + X5 (relationships).
Data analysis will indicate the real picture of the effectiveness of WFP program in achieving a reduction in depression and increase in food security in Syria from 2011 to 2016.
The potential evaluation results will have implications for various stakeholders. For instance, funders will get an opportunity to learn whether the contributions are being misappropriated or used in the right manner. In addition, the evaluation results will help funders to identify weaknesses and strengths of the program, and consequently take action to address the weaknesses and improve the strengths. Conversely, the evaluation will be important to intended beneficiaries in the sense that the results will provide a practical basis for reducing starvation, increasing availability, and access of basic commodities.
Equally important, the involved policy organizations will utilize the evaluation results to improve the program. For instance, the findings can encourage WFP to focus not only on providing humanitarian aid but also on developing measures to promote sustainability in the future. The implication is that the aid agency should establish and implement proactive policies to curb the impact of climate change in Syria and neighboring countries. In addition, the evaluation results can help WFP to know the areas that are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and consequently ensure that the basic commodities are distributed in a neutral manner. Most importantly, the evaluation results may be useful to the community because they will focus on the ways through which WFP can increase food security. This implies that the future generations will have access to adequate food, and that the findings will create a practical pathway to independence.
On the contrary, the study has its own share of limitations. Firstly, the sample size may not be adequate to generalize the results. This is largely because it is difficult to obtain data, especially in areas affected by conflicts. Moreover, the study period covers only six years, 2011 through 2016, which implies that the inferences may be a result of factors that are not captured by the model. Furthermore, the study is largely based on self-reported data. This means that the researcher cannot independently verify the data, and that he will rely on information collected from interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Similarly, the measures utilized to gather the data may not capture all relevant information, including starvation-related deaths and the level of greenhouse gases. The implication is that there is a need for future researcher to explore the impact of other variables on food security in Syria.
Ackerman, F. & Stanton, E. (2013). Climate economics: The state of the art. London: Routledge.
Chatel, F. (2014). The role of drought and climate change in the Syrian uprising: Untangling the triggers of the revolution. Middle Eastern Studies, 50(4), 521-535.
Gray, D. E. (2013). Doing research in the real world. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Jackson, R. (2013). Global politics in the 21st century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Martinez, J. & Eng, B. (2016). The unintended consequences of emergency food aid: neutrality, sovereignty, and politics in the Syrian civil war, 2012-2015. International Affairs, 92(1), 153-173.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (2016). Evaluation of OCHA response in Syria crisis. Retrieved from https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA%20Syria%20Evaluation%20Report_FINAL.pdf.
World Food Program. (2015). An evaluation of WFP’s regional response to the Syrian crisis, 2011-2014. Retrieved from http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/reports/wfp274337.pdf?_ga=1.144467957.1146141935.1480228369.
World Food Program. (2016). WFP Syria: Situation report #10. Retrieved from http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/ep/wfp288698.pdf?_ga=1.245121733.1146141935.1480228369.
World Population Review (2016). 2016 World Population by Country. retrieved from http://worldpopulationreview.com/
Zurayk, R. (2013) Civil war and the devastation of Syria’s food system. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(2), 7-9.
- For how long have you been a beneficiary of the feeding program?
- What was your food status before the program?
- How have the programs helped you in terms of daily food needs?
- Does the program serve its purpose of ensuring food security? Explain
- Do you feel like the program is the most effective way of addressing the food security problem in the country?