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Syria: UN seeks safe passage for food aid amid violence

New York, Apr 3 : The growing cycle of violence in Syria is preventing life-saving food aid from reaching many of the millions of vulnerable people in need, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said Tuesday, reiterating its call on all parties to allow humanitarian aid and workers to pass safely into disputed areas.


"It has become a struggle now to move food from one area to the other with our warehouses and trucks getting increasingly caught in the crossfire," said Muhannad Hadi, WFP Regional Emergency Coordinator for the Syria crisis.

"We are sometimes left with the difficult decision of calling off the dispatch of food to a place where we know there is dire need for it."

Since the beginning of the operation in December 2011, WFP recorded more than 20 attacks on its food trucks, warehouses and cars.

In Geneva, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told journalists that while WFP reached nearly two million people with food assistance last month, the agency "continues to face enormous challenges" particularly in rural Damascus, Quneitra, Dara'a, Deir Ezzor, Al-Raqqa, and many parts of the north of the country, particularly Aleppo and Idlib.

WFP sub-contracted trucks are often stopped at checkpoints and in many instances are forced to turn back, or sometimes hijacked.

In March, three trucks, loaded with food for 17,000 people in Al Hassakeh, were detained by an armed group in rural Deir Ezzor. The drivers and the trucks were released but the food has not yet been recovered, the UN agency reported.

Recently, a mortar fell on a WFP warehouse in Adraa, on the outskirts of Damascus, WFP reported. The food has not been recovered due to the insecurity.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is appealing for more space and support for Syrian refugees in Iraq where the pressure to accommodate the additional groups of people is growing.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Syrian refugees are arriving at the rate of 800-900 people per day, a rate double what it was just three months ago.

"The need for space for new camps, and to decongest existing camps is of paramount importance," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.

The Domiz camp in Iraq's north-west Dohuk governorate is "critically overcrowded" hosting 35,000 Syrian refugees.

Thousands of families are sharing tents with newly arrived refugees, as almost 3,500 families do not have their own shelters, Edwards said. He added that the crowding is impacting sanitation "which is already below humanitarian standards."

Congestion and warmer temperatures are increasing tensions, as well as making camp residents more vulnerable to diseases.

Since February, an average of 9 children out of every 100 suffers from diarrhoea per week, Edwards said. The number of children under five who get diarrhoea in the camp has doubled in recent weeks. Additionally, there have been 62 cases of Hepatitis A since the beginning of the year.

UNHCR, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) are conducting a joint assessment of the situation.

Since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, more than 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and more than three million displaced.

In addition, UNHCR Tuesday said that the number of Syrians taking refuge in other countries is up to 1,217,782 people as of Mar 28.

--IBNS (Posted on 03-04-2013)

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