Stories from the field: "In Syria, getting humanitarian supplies delivered is a herculean task"
Satish Pandey, member of the DRC Humanitarian Response Roster, recently completed a six-month deployment as Supply Chain Specialist to UNFPA in Damascus, Syria. DRC Standby Roster Intern Celine Nordheim had the opportunity to interview Satish in August. In this interview, Satish shares his deployment experience, including working under trade and payment restrictions and comments on how he experienced the consequences of the February earthquake.
Posted on 02 Oct 2023
DRC Standby Roster Intern Celine Manriquez Nordheim had the opportunity to interview Satish on 30 August, right before Satish ended his mission. During his deployment, the experienced supply chain expert streamlined UNFPA’s supply chain reporting system. In this interview, Satish also shares his experience of working under trade and payment restrictions and comments on how he experienced the consequences of the February earthquake.
Celine: How would you describe the situation in Damascus, Syria right now?
Satish: Damascus is a beautiful city, and people in general are humble, supportive, and quite hospitable. At the same time, there are a lot of challenges, especially due to the different restrictions on trade and payment in the country, high inflations, and a fragile security situation.
Celine: How is your living situation in Damascus?
Satish: Honestly, the living conditions in Damascus are relatively better than the ones I have had in different conflict duty stations, as I am obliged to stay in a particular hotel which is well maintained. We do not have many choices of dwelling facility in Damascus as it needs to meet certain safety standards and approvals from different stakeholders, which is a complex process.
Celine: In your typical workday, what are some of your key tasks and do you face any challenges in doing them?
Satish: In my typical workday, I work with the UNFPA Syria supply team, where I ensure that required supplies, such as sexual and reproductive health (SRH) supplies, medicines, and dignity kits are delivered to different field offices around Syria. Our daily work during this process is to coordinate with teams in programme and operations to ensure that those supplies are delivered smoothly.
Celine: What has been your biggest achievement in your deployment?
Satish: My biggest achievement in Syria has been to streamline the supply chain reporting system, which was lacking when I arrived here. In the first week of my deployment, the senior management told me that there is a gap in the supply chain reporting system to senior management and that I should support the country team to have a system in place which could address this gap. In consultation with the Head of Supply and the supply team, I coordinated the development of the supply report. The report has been put on a platform that is updated in real time, which has provided transparency in the system. So now, whenever the senior management want to know the overall supply status, they can just look at the report.
The Syria Crisis
After more than 12 years of crisis in Syria, the humanitarian needs are at their highest levels ever. More than 15 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Around 90 per cent of the Syrian population live below the poverty line. And more than 13 million Syrians have been displaced, both externally and internally.
The earthquake on 6 February worsened the crisis. More than half a million was displaced by the earthquake in Syria.
Various sanctions have been imposed on the Syrian government, government officials, and related entities by the US, UK, EU, and others. Measures include asset freezes and restrictions on trade and movement.
DRC began its work in Syria in 2008 and continues to support people in need, with a focus on communities affected by displacement. Read more about DRC’s work in Syria here.
In 2023, the DRC Standby Roster has deployed three experts to operations in Syria, incl. to UNHCR and UNFPA.
Celine: You were previously deployed through the DRC Standby Roster to UNHCR in Pakistan. Have you been able to draw on previous experiences from that deployment in your deployment to Syria?
Satish: Firstly, it was with a different agency and a different context. In Pakistan, there was no access restriction, so getting things delivered was much easier and it was well connected with international airports and seaports. If anything was required, getting things from Dubai, Amman or any other UN humanitarian hub was quite easy, and planning was therefore much easier. In Syria, on the other hand, getting things delivered in is a herculean task due to the trade and payment restrictions, as well as the challenge of getting different import permissions from the government. First, it can take months and months before the shipment arrives. Second, the government changes the rules from time to time, so when the shipment arrives, it can get stuck in the customs yard for a long time, so that is something very different from Pakistan. Obviously, the experience from Pakistan and other missions is useful for me, but each context is different and requires different kinds of interventions.
In February 2023, massive earthquakes hit Syria and Türkiye, leaving thousands of people dead, injured, and homeless. For refugees and displaced persons in Syria, this was a crisis within a crisis. While Damascus was not directly impacted by the earthquake, Celine asked Satish how the earthquake affected his work and how he experienced the response.
Celine: How did you experience the consequences of the earthquake in your work?
Satish: The earthquake made an already difficult life even more challenging for the Syrian people, also for our staff members who lost their friends and relatives in this disaster. Syria was already a difficult context to work in, and the response after the earthquake only became more challenging, as staff members now needed to handle their personal situations and take care of family and friends in addition to their professional obligations.
Celine: Your work is focused on supply delivery. How would you describe the supply delivery situation in Syria?
Satish: In Syria, there are areas which are controlled by the Syrian government, and areas that are controlled by non-government actors. To send supplies to different parts of Syria, we need permission from the government for each shipment. The minimum time to get permissions is two weeks. Until we get these permissions, the supplies are kept in the warehouses while people are suffering. Also, there is limited capacity of the local suppliers which force us to import everything from outside Syria, which is a complicated process due to delays in import permission and availability of transport to Syria.
Celine: Have you learned something new from this deployment that you will bring with you for future deployments?
Satish: Yes, this was my first deployment with UNFPA. When you are dealing with sexual and reproductive health (SRH) commodity specific supply chain, there are different quality assurance mechanisms and cold chain maintenance process for SRH supplies which I have learned to deal with here. When I go into new assignments, I will be able to use this learning from here. In addition, working under the trade and payment restrictions, there are different rules when you want to import things, so that is something I have learned here which I will be able to use in future deployments.
Celine: You are finishing your deployment in the beginning of September. What are you most looking forward to coming home?
Satish: When I go home, I have my 5-year-old daughter waiting for me. I am delighted to meet her and spend time with my family. In Nepal, we also have national festivals next month. I am happy that I will be at home around the Dashain and Deepawali festivals this time because most of the time I have been either in duty stations or traveling somewhere. This year, I am happy to be spending some time with my family during these festivals.