“We are deeply concerned that as many as half a million people are finding it difficult to get enough to eat, especially in areas most affected by violence,” said Abeer Etefa, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme. Etefa said that after an assessment by several U.N. agencies, the Syrian government and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group scaled up assistance to reach a quarter-million people last month. The organization is planning to increase that to 500,000 by the end of this month.
In Homs and Hama, the opposition-dominated cities where some neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble by months of shelling, residents say that they stand in line for hours to buy bread, while meat and vegetables are rarely available and are anyway unaffordable.
In addition, about 200,000 people have been displaced inside the country since the unrest began, according to a recent study by the Norwegian Refugees Council and the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, and many of them cannot provide food for themselves, activists say. With much of the influx now in Damascus or its troubled outskirts, volunteers said that they have difficulty feeding the people, many of whom left their homes with few possessions and little money.
‘Homs is a prison now’
After more than a year of unrest as a clampdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad became a bloody conflict, the hungriest areas of Syria are those where fighting has been the most intense, Etefa said. Although the International Committee of the Red Cross has provided some food aid, its activities have been on a small scale, and it has focused on treating those wounded in the fighting.
“Homs is a prison now,” said one activist, known as Waleed Fares, in the Khalidiyeh neighborhood of the city where opposition to Assad is concentrated and where a military onslaught has been fierce. “Getting bread is very, very difficult; fruit and vegetables are very difficult.”
Those drivers who are still willing to deliver food to Syria’s beleaguered cities have to deal with fuel shortages as well as numerous checkpoints and damaged roads. That has driven up the price of transporting food and contributed to an increase in prices that the World Food Programme estimates at between 20 and 80 percent since the unrest began, at a time when many people have lost their livelihoods because of the violence.
Fares said that military checkpoints have prevented trucks with food from entering the areas of the city where most people support the opposition, with security forces sometimes stealing food and attacking the drivers. His story was echoed by activists in other parts of the country, who were contacted by Skype because the Syrian government restricts journalists’ access to the country.