26 January 2006
UN Volunteer Adham Effendi (left) briefing local workers on handling food aid. Bonn, Germany:
At age 27, Adham Effendi has seen more than his fair share of tragedy and despair, from the plight of refugees in his native Pakistan to starving children in Eritrea.
Now as a United Nations Volunteer with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan, Effendi is trying to prevent a tragic event from getting worse.
As the head of WFP’s sub-office in Pakistan’s northern Battagram district, he has to communicate, coordinate, manage and monitor the programme’s operations in four districts. "The most important task is getting food to those who need it most," he says.
Since October last year, he has been in the north of the country, an area devastated by the 8 October earthquake that, according to the UN, has claimed more than 73,000 lives, injured nearly 70,000 and left millions homeless.
For Effendi, a typical workday sees him up before the sun, heading to his office, a logistics nerve centre staffed with about 50, and planning the day’s operations. Together with his team, his task entails dispatching helicopters and trucks filled with food, tracking airdrops, assisting partners in organizing distributions and staying on top of administrative duties.
Working in the snowy, northern mountainous region of Pakistan is a daunting task in the best of conditions, he says. Add to the mix the earthquake’s effects – collapsed bridges, blocked roads and landslides – and you have a logistical nightmare, one that presents new obstacles every day.
Flying is the main, and often the only method of transportation to distribute food to survivors who struggle to get through the winter’s unrelenting cold. Organizing and maintaining the plan of such an operation, which Effendi says is one of the largest in recent history, has presented many challenges.
"Our biggest obstacles are weather and time," he says. "Time is of the essence here. We have no choice but to act fast, especially when you know that your actions are linked to the well-being of someone else."
Despite these conditions, Effendi and his colleagues have surmounted, managing to reach survivors with flour, lentils, vegetable oil, salt, dates and high energy biscuits. Since the start of operations, he estimates his team has distributed food to more than 335,000.
He is also in-charge of supplying rations on a monthly basis to 20,000 people living in tent villages as well as overseeing WFP’s Emergency School Feeding programme in some 116 schools in the four districts. The programme provides 15,000 school children with daily rations of dates and high energy biscuits.
Central to all activities underway, he says, is the support of the victims and the communities. “Hundreds of volunteers, from doctors to mountaineers, have worked with us [and] local organizations in making [relief activities] happen,” says Effendi. “The willingness of the people to volunteer, push[ing] their misery aside, makes me so happy.”
Regardless of progress made, Effendi says a continued battle lies ahead. “Our priority is food,” he says. "Winter is long and in areas with four to five feet of snow, we need to get enough food [to the people] to ensure they can survive if weather stops us from further [food] deliveries."
Effendi plans to remain in Pakistan until March, depending on the status of the aid operation at the time. Then he hopes to return to drought-affected Eritrea as a UN Volunteer to continue with WFP in responding to the hunger crises in the Horn of Africa.
"I find my work very rewarding despite the challenges. The more experience I get in disasters, the more confident I am in helping others."