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Aid Agencies Take Advantage Of Cease-Fire In Syria To Reach Needy

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We have been following the cease-fire in Syria and the opening it presents to aid groups to deliver desperately needed food and medical supplies. Among them, the U.N.'s World Food Program. WFP convoys have been able to travel to rebelled-held East Ghouta, a suburb about 10 miles outside the capital Damascus. Human rights monitors say that despite the cease-fire the area was struck by government forces last Friday. We reached the country director for the World Food Program in Damascus. Jakob Kern traveled with one of those aid convoys. Welcome.

JAKOB KERN: It's good to be on the show.

MONTAGNE: How long has it been since any aid workers have been able to access the towns in East Ghouta?

KERN: The last time the U.N. was there was in mid-2014. So we haven't been able to reach that town, that area for more than one and a half years.

MONTAGNE: And in that time, up until you reached the area, what were the conditions for people living there? What did you find when you got there with food and medicine?

KERN: What we found was a town that was under besiegement for many months now. Most houses are damaged or destroyed. People are making a living now. It's a big area and somehow they have got used to it. But what I really noticed is, since the cease-fire, children are actually playing outside on the park. And that's probably the first time for a long time that they are able to do that without fear of seeing a bomb or attack.

MONTAGNE: Is this - this ability to bring in food, is this in your view saving lives - I mean, actually keeping people alive who would not make it?

KERN: Absolutely. These are life-saving convoys that we are doing. These deliveries to these besieged towns are being carried out in addition to WFP's regular operation to which it delivers food to 4 million people in (unintelligible) Syria (unintelligible) every month. So we have a huge operation besides these convoys, which is the regular 4 million people that we support.

MONTAGNE: Many of the people you encounter during these convoys, what sense do you get that they are willing and hoping to hold out where they live and also perhaps in some cases, you know, with rebels who they would be sympathetic to?

KERN: When we talk to them and I ask them normally, what message do you want me to come away to the rest of the world? And the first thing that comes out, we want peace. This is really something that strongly comes from everybody. After a war that has lasted longer than World War II, people are ready to get back to their lives as fast as possible. The second thing they say is, we want our lives back. We want our jobs back. The Syrians are very - the Syrian people (unintelligible) high education. They don't want to depend on food aid and on outside help. They just want peace and their lives back.

MONTAGNE: Jakob Kern is with the World Food Program, the WFP. He spoke to us from Damascus. Thank you very much.

KERN: It was my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.