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Apr 24, 2019

An on-the-ground perspective: Syria

PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

With over 11 million people displaced, more than half a million deaths and now in its eighth year, the Syrian War has resulted in the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Throughout much of the country, local infrastructure has been demolished and there is a widespread lack of food, water, shelter and other basic needs.

Despite these hardships, Mercy Corps is one of only a few organizations with team members and local partners working on the front lines of Syria, meeting the urgent needs of a suffering society.

Mercy Corps' Deputy Country Director Made Ferguson, shares his on-the-ground perspective on the current situation in Syria.

What is the situation like right now in Syria? Why are people suffering and what are the urgent needs?

Syria is going through one of the largest wars of the century. We have seen 11 million people displaced and 6.5 million people in need all over the country. Civilians, children and the most vulnerable people have been most affected by this. The Syrian war has touched and affected everyone who once had a very peaceful life.

Over the past eight years of violent conflict, millions of Syrians have fled and many of them ended up in northwest Syria. Once a rural area with a small community of 1.5 million, the population has more than doubled to 4 million people. With this mass increase to the population, northwestern Syria does not have the resources to support the influx of migrating people.

Can people return to Syria and what are the challenges people face if they do decide to return to Syria?

So many people do not have homes to return to in Syria. The country has very little infrastructure, very little education and job opportunities. Many homes, schools and roads have been destroyed, and in many places violence continues. Syria is still an active war zone.

What is Mercy Corps programming like in Syria? How is Mercy Corps responding?

Mercy Corps is responding on the front lines of the conflict. When people are displaced, Mercy Corps is there to provide assistance. Mercy Corps supports a range of activities, from providing food and water to cash and hygiene kits. We look at families that are in a protracted situation that are not able to return to their homes. Mercy Corps facilitates the rehabilitation of water supply networks to vulnerable communities.

Mercy Corps believes that local economies will continue to operate even in the most dire situations. To both strengthen the resilience of local economies and rebuild people’s lives, Mercy Corps is also supporting people through agriculture production and vocational training.

What is the best thing about your role as Mercy Corps’ Deputy Country Director to Syria?

The best thing is the impact Mercy Corps has been able to have on people’s lives. Last year we were able to reach 1.5 million people. Through providing effective and lifesaving assistance that I know made a difference to the personal stories of the 1.5 million people.

How you can help

In an effort to alleviate suffering among civilians, Mercy Corps is working hard to ensure refugees have access to their basic needs. We are working on the front lines of the conflict to provide food, clean water, shelter and so much more. We are committed to supporting those affected and displaced by the Syrian war.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to Syrian families and families in crisis around the world.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page to post the infographic and spread the word about the millions who need us.
  • Sign a petition. Tell congress that we must continue to support Syrian refugees. Add your name to the list to stand in support with refugees.
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps


Mar 26, 2019

Mercy Corps Responds - Indonesia Tsunami - Final


On the night of December 22, 2018, Mrs. Murnasih got a phone call from the head of the neighborhood telling her that “water is coming.” She told her husband right away; her husband went out to check. He was shocked to see that water was already coming in and was rapidly getting higher and higher. The couple grabbed their young children, 7 and 3 years old, and began running towards higher ground, joined by throngs of people streaming from other nearby villages. Without power or cell service post-tsunami, it was hard to get news on what was actually happening.

Since they had to leave in a rush, like so many others that night, Mrs. Murnasih and her family could not bring anything with them. However, she was relieved that at least her entire family had survived. They spent the night in the open, very scared and wondering what had happened to their home and belongings.

In the early morning hours, two tsunami waves struck the shorelines of Java Island and Sumatra Island that form the boundaries of the Sunda Strait. During the first 48 hours after the event, there was little clarity on what had happened to cause the wave. As satellite data became available, it was concluded that the on-going eruption of Anak Krakatau volcano (since July 2018) in the Sunda Strait had caused either an underwater landslide or a partial collapse of newly forming areas of the volcano.

More than 430 people died, and an additional 14,000 were injured. As a result of the destruction caused by the tsunami, there were more than 33,000 internally displaced people and thousands of damaged homes.

Mercy Corps response

Mercy Corps’ experienced response team in Indonesia responded immediately, sending staff to assess the area and begin emergency relief distributions. Per our typical approach, we worked in consultation with the government and peer agencies, regularly meeting to review the ongoing situation, identify needs and coordinate activities. We coordinated closely with the Indonesia Red Cross and carried out joint distributions in heavily impacted areas – totaling 365 relief kits delivered in January and 144 kits in February.

The Indonesia Red Cross took the lead in registering recipients and documentation, while Mercy Corps provided the kits and implemented the actual distribution. We distributed three types of kits: shelter kits, which contain tarps, rope, blankets, boots and gloves; hygiene kits, which contain a bucket, jerry can, toothbrush, clothing, and bathing items; and cooking kits, which contain a wok, a pan, cooking utensils and cutlery. The kits included items we knew were in high demand and culturally appropriate for affected members of the local community. We worked with the Indonesia Red Cross to select recipients, with the primary criteria being that the recipient’s home had been totally or almost totally destroyed, as well as fisherman who had lost their boats.

How You can Continue to Help

Our readiness to respond to disasters like these and help strengthen communities for the long term is thanks to the generosity of supporters like you. To support our work now and for the future, please consider making a gift to Mercy Corps.

Mar 7, 2019

Venezuela's humanitarian crisis

Even in the shade, the heat is stifling. It wraps 43-year-old Oriana like a heavy blanket, adding to the weight of her circumstances. Her 15-year-old daughter, Joelbi, lies in a make-do hammock nearby; a group of other young boys and girls — all unrelated, all under 16 — lounge on the ground and trees around her.

One of the boys points to Oriana. That is everyone’s mom, he says.

With warmth but great sadness, Oriana gestures to the bridge and the trash and the parentless Venezuelan kids who’ve found safety with her. None of this was part of the plan.

It wasn’t long ago that Oriana had a steady job at a hospital in Venezuela, her home country. She had a house and was able to support her two children, Joelbi and her 16-year-old son, Yohan.  

When people arrive in Colombia, they often beg until they have enough money to buy coffee, bread, candies or other small items they can sell on the street. They are lucky if they earn between $2 and $5 a day, which they use to scrape by or to send back to Venezuela. For those who do get informal jobs, they are subject to low pay, long hours and exploitation.

“We did not come here to be parasites,” says one Venezuelan migrant in Riohacha. “All we want is to be given the same rights and protections as Colombians. We want to work, but with dignity.”  

Mercy Corps has expanded its existing operations in Colombia to meet the urgent needs of Venezuelan refugees and Colombians affected by Venezuelan migrations. We've already helped more than 7,700 people since last year. 

We are providing emergency cash via prepaid debit cards to help approximately 7,000 people in 10 municipalities in Cesar and La Guajira departments, including the cities of Riohacha, Maicao and Valledupar. 

Between June and September 2018, we helped more than 2,000 Venezuelans get medicine by paying for prescriptions at local pharmacies in Riohacha, La Guajira. For hospital inpatients, in addition to paying for prescriptions, we provided items such as diapers and hygiene supplies.

In Putumayo, Cauca and Antioquia, where we already work to help vulnerable Colombians displaced by armed conflict meet their urgent needs, we are also providing emergency cash to help Venezuelan families living there. We’ve already assisted more than 1,800 Venezuelans (more than 460 families) across these three departments.  

The humanitarian crisis is now the worst in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 3 million people displaced in the region. More people may flee in the coming months as conditions in the country worsen. The UN estimates there will be 5.3 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants by the end of 2019.

As the situation worsens, Mercy Corps is committed to helping vulnerable Venezuelan refugees who are unsure of what the future holds. Our response is only just beginning.

Your help will allow us to do even more to support these families as they cope with the tragedy of losing their homes and livelihoods. 

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