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Press Centre (9/2014)

Food First: Aid agencies tackle nutrition problems for Syrians in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey, 27th August 2014- A new initiative to help Syrians in Turkey has been launched in a bid to address the needs of hundreds of thousands living outside refugee camps. The latest government figures put the total number of Syrians in Turkey at 1.35 million, and with only 220,000 of those living in camps, the vast majority struggle to survive on their own. Thousands of these Syrians need basic help in finding and securing a place to stay, regular and nutritious meals and access to education. Those particularly at risk are children under-5, as the knock-on effects of an early poor diet could have long-term negative repercussions, especially with regard to growth and education.
A multi-agency research project has now been launched to tackle the problem of nutrition. The “Nutrition Research for Syrian Citizens in Turkey” study was launched last month by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), UNICEF Turkey, the World Health Organization and Turkey’s Ministry of Health.
Fieldwork will be carried out during the first ten days of September in a total of nine cities across Turkey, including Hatay, Adana, Kilis, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Mardin, İstanbul, Konya, and Mersin. The 31-person fieldwork team is comprised of health officers, AFAD staff and translators.  The study aims to reach approximately 1,500 houses — 1,200 out-of camp and 300 in-camp. Data collected from the field will be published after a month-long analysis.
AFAD Director Fatih Özer was joined by UNICEF Turkey Deputy Representative, Lieke van da Wiel, representatives from both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Program (WFP), to welcome the study’s researchers and pollsters at the first training workshop in August.
“Nutrition of children and their mothers is important”
UNICEF Turkey Representative Lieke Van de Wiel said the most important picture the data will reveal concerns the eating patterns of children aged 6 months to 5 years old, as well as their mothers and pregnant women. Primary research into this issue both inside and outside the camps will enable the clear planning of nutrition programs.
 “Syrian families, especially children, who are having hardest days of their lives need our support for nutrition more than ever,” she said.
Van de Wiel said the research would reveal additional important data for supplementary activities that can be run collectively by the relevant partners in the short term.
She said that Turkey’s efforts to care for 1.35 million Syrian refugees was deeply appreciate, but the country has reached a crucial point in disaster management and preparation. She also highlighted the importance tackling problems with infant nutrition and the significance of UNICEF’s continued collaboration with AFAD.
Targeted Research
Mr Özer, emphasized the importance of matching food aid to the preferences of the recipients in tackling nutrition. He said a mistake made in the past where Syrian residents of the Osmaniye Camp would not eat the truckloads of Turkish bread, preferring their own style, which led to large amount of waste. In response to problem, AFAD, the WFP and the Turkish Red Crescent collectively developed the “Food Card Project”, which gave Syrians greater control over what they ate. It is now a world-leading model of food provision.
“Now, Syrian families in camps can bake their own kind of bread in accordance with their taste with the flour they buy from the grocery, and so that both wastage is prevented and families can consume food they prefer,” Özer said.
Training for Success
Mr Özer also highlighted the importance of collecting accurate information in order to deliver successful programs.
He said: "These surveys are of utmost importance. Our priority is to target children because children are the ones who are affected most by such situations. As an educator I know for sure that if you cannot raise healthy generations, you cannot build a healthy nation.”
The pollsters are being trained ensure their interviews discover information which will help the practical implementation of the project and not just nutrition problems. They were also briefed by training, participants were given detailed information by UNICEF health expert Mutrib Bahruddinov, WHO representative Isabel Periquto and Nathali Schumann and AFAD Consultant Prof. Dr. Mehmet Balcılar.  
The pollsters come from diverse professional and educational backgrounds and for many it is their first time conducting survey work. Tomris Ceren left the Syrian province of Lattakia in December 2012. Tomris now lives in Istanbul and works in a hospital as a translator as well as studying at Mersin University’s International Trade and Logistics department.  She said: “This is the first time I take part in such a training. I would be really happy if lack of nutrition in some children could be identified and their needs were satisfied by the relevant institutions”.
Özgür Yurtoğlu, who is in the team that will carry out the survey study in Şanlıurfa, is a health officer commissioned in AFAD Ankara. Yurtoğlu expresses his opinions on a short break in the training saying “If this training and the research following it achieve their goal, they would be really fruitful. We, as AFAD staff, are ready to exert ourselves to the utmost for a work that will be beneficial for our Syrian guests”. 
Story and photos by Ayberk Yurtsever
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org