Aid groups: Syrians' needs growing more dire
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New signs of deprivation plaguing Syria's war-ravaged civilians emerged Tuesday, with the United Nations saying it is unable to feed a million hungry residents in combat zones, and aid agencies reporting an outbreak of violence in a large refugee camp in Jordan, where a winter storm felled tents and left many frustrated inhabitants shivering in a cold rain.
Weather forecasters said another storm was threatening Syria and its neighbors with snow today.
The World Food Program, the U.N.'s food agency, said it was providing food to 1.5 million people inside Syria this month, but that as many as 2.5 million needed help, mostly in areas made hazardous by fighting between insurgents and President Bashar Assad's loyalist forces. "Our partners are overstretched, and there is no capacity to expand operations further; we need more implementing partners," World Food Program spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs said at the agency's Geneva headquarters.
She also said acute fuel shortages in Syria had delayed food deliveries and contributed to severe inflation in the price of bread, because bakeries needed fuel for their ovens. In the contested northern city of Aleppo, for example, the price of a kilogram of bread is now 250 Syrian pounds, or about $3.50, at least 50 percent higher than in other parts of Syria and at least six times more than its cost when the Syrian conflict began nearly two years ago.
The United Nations appealed last month for $1.5 billion in additional aid to handle the growing crisis created by the Syrian conflict, which has left at least 60,000 people dead and is threatening to destabilize the Middle East. More than half a million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, and the U.N. refugee agency has forecast a doubling of that number by the middle of 2013.
The most heavily burdened neighbors -- Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon -- have been persistently calling for more international aid, particularly during the cold winter months.
At the Zaatari refugee camp, which shelters 54,000 Syrians in northern Jordan, fighting erupted Tuesday during food distribution after a night of relentless rain inundated parts of the encampment. The number of injuries was unclear. A Jordanian police statement said two aid workers had been hurt. Save the Children, one of the international groups that helps the U.N. refugee agency administer the camp, said 11 people had been hurt, more than half of them Save the Children workers.
U.N. refugee agency spokesman Mohammed Abu Asaker acknowledged weather-related problems at the camp, aggravated by a large number of new residents -- roughly 9,000 arrivals in the past week. "It is a difficult situation in the camp," he said. "There is a frustration from the refugees."
Ali Bibi, a liaison officer with the refugee agency, said the violence Tuesday was the latest in a series of at least four clashes among refugees, aid workers and police in recent weeks.
Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the refugee agency in Geneva, said in an email that most of the camp had withstood the rainfall, and that aid workers were expediting efforts to move families into prefabricated housing. She attributed tensions among the camp population to "fears of worsening weather conditions, with some families rushing to occupy prefabs out of turn."
In a speech Sunday, Mr. Assad, whose family has dominated Syria's politics for four decades, denounced those fomenting the armed uprising against him as foreign stooges, rejected negotiations and instead offered his own plan for political changes, which critics said was meant to keep him in power.
First Published January 9, 2013 12:00 am