— The World Food Program
says the Syrian government has agreed to let the agency work with dozens of Syrian organizations to distribute food aid throughout the war-torn country.
The World Food Program currently provides food aid to 1.5 million needy people inside Syria. WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin says the agency has not been able to expand its operation because only the Syrian Arab Red Crescent has been authorized to distribute food.
But last week, she says, the Syrian authorities gave the agency a list of 110 non-governmental organizations that can help distribute food. Out of this list, she says WFP has chosen 44 groups with whom it will work. Cousin says this will enable WFP to scale up its operation to feed an additional one million people.
“What we did not have in the past was permission from the government to formally develop relationships with additional NGO partners," said Cousin. "We have now been given that additional authority from the government. We are still going to be limited by the ongoing conflict. I am not going to suggest that because we will have more partners that that will open up space that did not exist before because of the conflict.”
Because of an escalation in the fighting, Cousin says the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was able to reach 900,000 people in December. With the addition of the new partnerships, she says WFP is nearly tripling its reach.
“The government has given us their consent to go into every area," said Cousin. "The challenge is we have seen more attacks on our trucks in the last two months… We have seen more attacks on our trucks from the opposition. But what we find is that we can actually talk to them and most time we get our food back. But it makes it more difficult for our drivers to go into these areas.”
Cousin says representatives from United Nations agencies and officials from governments in the region will meet in Jordan on Thursday to make plans for scaling up the food operation in Syria.