UN extends food aid in Syria, but more than half a million remain out of reach

Agreement on cross-border food deliveries allows the UN’s food agency to feed people trapped in hard-to-reach areas of Syria

The UN’s food agency delivered supplies to 3.7 million besieged Syrians last month, up 8 per cent on the 3.4 million reached in June; but more than half a million people remain out of reach.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) delivered food rations to an extra 300,000 people, trapped in hard-to-reach areas of Syria, thanks to food deliveries being allowed to cross from neighbouring countries and move through conflict lines. This change was authorised by the UN Security Council last month.

The UN agency warned, however, that it was still half a million people off its goal of providing humanitarian assistance to 4.25 million Syrians.

“Access and security are the two main challenges,” Abeer Etefa, WFP spokesperson, told Philanthropy Age. “We crossed the 4 million mark [of people reached] in the first quarter of the year, but since then access has been a big issue.

“The roads in the north-east governorate of Al-Hassakeh are completely cut off, for example,” says Etefa; “We have had to resort to airlifting [food] from neighbouring Iraq.”

WFP has sent 23 flights to the governorate, one of the hardest hit by the conflict. WFP provides food rations – mainly dry goods such as rice, lentils and canned foods – to populations in Syria affected by the conflict, now in its fourth year.

The agency has seen signs of malnutrition, particularly among children and the elderly, in besieged areas, says Etefa. In July, the agency was able to reach populations previously cut off, including 30,000 people in Moadamiyeh, west of Damascus, that had remained cut off since October 2012.

In July WFP launched a pilot project to provide food vouchers to 730 pregnant women and nursing mothers in Homs and Lattakia. “We started this project in areas where the markets are still functioning,” says Etefa. The vouchers enable mothers to diversify their diet, including the purchase of fresh vegetables and dairy products they otherwise couldn’t afford.

The UN reports around 10.8 million people in Syria are in dire need, of which 4.7 million are in hard-to-reach areas. The UN needs to raise $35m every week to meet the food needs of families in Syria and Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, according to WFP.

On 14 July, the UN Security Council authorised humanitarian access into Syria for 180 days without needing the Syrian government’s consent. UN Resolution 2165 allows aid convoys to enter Syria through four border crossings – two from Turkey, and one each in Iraq and Jordan – notifying Syria of the humanitarian purpose of the deliveries.

Before the UN authorisation, delivery of food rations and relief supplies relied on airdrops. In July, WFP reported a 56-fold increase in the number of airdrops globally on the same period in 2013, due to increasing conflicts around the world. Syria accounted for 16 per cent of all cargo delivered from January to June 2014.