BEIRUT – The World Food Program said Tuesday that Syria’s civil war has blocked the U.N. agency from delivering aid to at least 1 million people who are in desperate need of help.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the U.N. agency’s local partner on the ground, has been stretched to capacity, and the violence between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and the armed opposition has prevented aid workers from reaching some needy Syrians, said Abeer Etefa, an agency spokeswoman.
Truck drivers have been reluctant to transport food into conflict areas, and World Food Program staff members have had to ride in armored vehicles to monitor food distribution in some areas, Etefa said.
She said the U.N. agency also has had difficulty accessing its main warehouse in Damascus, the capital.
“There are serious bread and fuel shortages across the country, with large numbers of Syrians who are displaced and seeking shelter,” she said. “We are already helping 1.5 million people in Syria, but we estimate that 1 million are still in need of food assistance.”
Damascus and surrounding areas have seen intense fighting. Airstrikes have targeted rebel-held areas, and anti-government fighters have carried out assassinations and set off bombs in the city.
Conditions have forced the World Food Program to find alternate access points into Syria. An estimated 597,240 Syrian refugees who have fled the violence are facing harsh winter weather, many equipped with only flimsy canvas tents and insufficient clothing.
Some frustrated refugees at the Zaatari camp in northern Jordan, where about 50,000 are sheltered, attacked aid workers with sticks and stones after the tents collapsed in 35 mph winds, said Ghazi Sarhan, spokesman for the Jordanian charity that helps run the camp. Police said seven Jordanian workers were injured.
After three days of rain, muddy water engulfed tents housing refugees including pregnant women and infants. Those who didn’t move out used buckets to bail out the water; others built walls of mud to try to stay dry.
Conditions in the Zaatari camp were “worse than living in Syria,” said Fadi Suleiman, a 30-year-old refugee.
Most of Zaatari’s residents are children under age 18 and women. They are some of the more than 280,000 Syrians who fled to Jordan since the uprising broke out in March 2011. As the fighting has increased in recent weeks, the number of displaced has risen.
Also Tuesday, the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus was shelled and saw fighting between Syrian rebels and pro-government supporters. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based nongovernmental organization, said four people in the camp were killed by shelling and a fifth by a sniper.
Syria’s civil war has polarized Yarmouk’s Palestinians. In December, the camp was shelled as pro-rebel fighters tried to take it over and clashed with Assad’s supporters.
Fourteen Palestinian factions issued a statement calling for calm and urging fighters to withdraw from the camp “in order not to bear the responsibility of the continuing displacement of (Yarmouk’s) residents.”