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January 08, 2013

UN: 1 Million Syrians Need Emergency Food Aid

by Mark Snowiss

The United Nations said Tuesday that about one million Syrians are living without adequate food supplies and that serious fuel shortages and rising violence are disrupting aid distribution across the war-torn country.
 
According to U.N. World Food Program spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, the agency is distributing rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria every month, the vast majority internally displaced.  That is well below the 2.5 million people in need of assistance.
 
The lack of fuel and security in Syria has significantly curtailed the ability of the WFP's main local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, from distributing aid.
 
"The Syrian Red Crescent is stretched to the limit and has no more capacity to expand further.  That is why we need more implementing partners, NGOs, on the ground to distribute humanitarian food assistance," Byrs said.

Only a handful of aid agencies are authorized to distribute relief goods, some of which lack adequate staff, fuel or materials. Increasing violence has forced ships to use the Lebanese port of Beirut instead of the Syrian port of Tartus, Byrs said.
 
Oxfam, ranked among the top international aid agencies in the world, is not present in Syria, but runs programs for Syrian refugees from neighboring Lebanon and Jordan.
 
The group's Beirut representative, Caroline Gluck, said Oxfam is "under discussion with [potential] local partners" to try to establish a presence in Syria.  She said a handful of other organizations may be there in an unofficial capacity.
 
The United Nations has appealed for $1.5 billion to help save millions of Syrians suffering from what it called a rapidly worsening humanitarian situation.  But Byrs said the U.N. call has gone largely unfulfilled.
 
"Apart from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and a few local charities, we have no other NGOs or people ready to do the job," she said.
 
Millions in need
 
The U.N. estimates four million people in Syria need urgent humanitarian aid, including an estimated two million displaced from their homes by fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to topple him.
 
The number of registered Syrian refugees in neighboring countries has increased from 500,000 to nearly 600,000 in the past month, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
 
The United Nations estimates 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, when President Assad began suppressing what started as peaceful pro-democracy protests.  The protests evolved into an armed rebellion aimed at ending the Assad family's four-decade authoritarian rule.