UN unable to get food to 1 million hungry Syrians
09 January, 2013
GENEVA: About 1 million Syrians are going hungry due to the difficulty of getting supplies into conflict zones and the fact that the few government-approved aid agencies are stretched to the limit, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is handing out rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria each month, still short of the 2.5 million deemed to be in need, WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.
Bread and fuel particularly are in short supply, but the WFP said it had won "special permission" from the government to import fuel from Lebanon to use in the trucks distributing aid in Syria. The WFP is unable to increase assistance due to difficulty in reaching some insecure areas. Only a handful of aid agencies are authorised to distribute relief goods, some of which lack staff, fuel or other material.
"Our main partner, the (Syrian Arab) Red Crescent, is overstretched and has no more capacity to expand further," Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva.
More than 60,000 people have been killed during 21 months of conflict between the forces of President Bashar al Assad and rebels trying to topple him. Deteriorating security conditions forced the WFP to withdraw its staff from the towns of Homs, Aleppo, Tartous and Qamisly," Byrs said. "Long queues for bread are now normal in many parts of Syria and there are shortages of wheat flour in most parts of the country due to damage to mills, most of which are located in the embattled Aleppo area," she said.
"Deliveries of food have been delayed by insecurity, and ships now have to use the Lebanese port of Beirut instead of the Syrian port of Tartous," Byrs said. The United Nations last month appealed for $1.5 billion to help the millions of Syrians suffering from what it called a dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Four million people in the country need urgent humanitarian aid, including an estimated 2 million displaced from their homes by fighting. The number of registered Syrian refugees has leapt from 500,000 to nearly 600,000 in the past month, UN figures show.
Meanwhile, Thousands of Syrians living in a refugee camp in southern Turkey will hold elections this month to select camp leaders and an administrative council in an exercise Turkey said was aimed at introducing democracy to Syrian citizens. Turkey, which is sheltering tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing violence in their homeland, is an outspoken critic of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who is battling rebels trying to overthrow his government. "Refugees aged 18 and over at the Kilis camp housing more than 13,000 Syrians on the Turkey-Syria border will be able to vote on Jan. 17 for leaders of different sections of the camp and for an 18-member administrative council," the Turkish government said in a statement.
The elections are aimed at "introducing Syrian citizens to democracy and aim to provide the opportunity to gain experience in this field", it said. A total of 42 candidates, who are required to be over the age of 30, will be able to launch election campaigns with bi-weekly speeches. They will be provided with flags, placards and technical support. Each of the six sections in the camp has to have at least one female candidate.
The election winners will help administer services relating to security, health, education and religion in coordination with the local governor's office. Turkey has tried to showcase the Kilis camp, where refugees live in heated and air-conditioned containers with refrigeration facilities, as opposed to tents at other camps. While Turkey has provided some of the best shelter and facilities for refugees among Syria's neighbours, overcrowding remains a concern and sporadic unrest has erupted at camps including Kilis. Turkish security forces have on occasion used tear gas to suppress the protests.